England Face Opening Test Against Tunisia at World Cup 2018
After the disappointment of World Cup 2014, England will be hoping for significant improvement in Russia. The Three Lions have been drawn in Group G alongside in-form Belgium, newcomers Panama and Tunisia. Many fans will see it as a favourable draw for Gareth Southgate’s side although following recent tournament disappointments, supporters will be wary of any optimism creeping in.
A number of Tunisian players still compete in their own domestic top flight although many others including former Sunderland winger Wahbi Khazri ply their trade throughout Europe. Oussama Haddadi and Bassem Srarfi also compete in the French top flight for Dijon and Nice respectively. They were the first African side to win a World Cup game back in 1978 but have never managed to progress beyond the Group Stage of the competition. There is a hint of deja-vu as England were drawn against the same opposition in their 1998 World Cup opener, where they emerged 2-0 winners thanks to goals from Paul Scholes and Alan Shearer.
Panama will also provide stiff competition for England having qualified for their first ever World Cup and will be keen to make a name for themselves on the biggest stage of all. Belgium will be the toughest test for Southgate’s men with Roberto Martinez’s side knocking in an impressive 43 goals during their qualifiers, with Manchester United powerhouse Romelu Lukaku responsible for 11 of those strikes.
The majority of Irish online sportsbooks have reacted to the draw with Paddy Power making Belgium sixth favourites at 12/1 for the tournament, however they will need to tighten up at the back if they are to clinch their first ever World Cup.
A mouthwatering Iberian derby has been thrown up with Spain and Portugal going head to head in Group B. Portuguese defender Jose Fonte admitted it’s a “…big rivalry” before adding “…everyone will up for it”. The two sides will meet in the group opener on June 15th and they are joined in their section by Morocco and Iran.
France will take on Australia in their Group C opener with the Socceroos requiring a play-off victory against Honduras in order to secure their place at the tournament. Peru and Denmark complete an extremely competitive looking section.
Lionel Messi’s individual brilliance helped secure Argentina’s place at the tournament following a disastrous qualifying campaign and they will face everyone’s favourite underdog Iceland, Luka Modric’s Croatia and Africa’s ‘Super Eagles’ Nigeria in Group D.
Group E consists of one of the pre-tournament favourites Brazil who will open up against Switzerland, before taking on Costa Rica and Serbia. The latter are quietly fancied to progress to the latter stages of the competition following their impressive qualifying campaign.
World Champions Germany will open up against Mexico with the two sides recently facing each other at the 2017 Confederations Cup. They are also joined by Sweden, who stunned Italy to earn their place at the tournament. Making up the group is Korea Republic, who will be looking to Tottenham’s Son Heung-min to provide the goals. This appears to be another competitive group although Joachim Low’s side will be fancied to breeze through to the last 16 with relatively few problems.
Group H appears to be one of the weakest with Poland lining up alongside Senegal, Colombia and Japan. Elsewhere, Hosts Russia kick things off against Saudi Arabia in what is being described as one of the most underwhelming World Cup opening fixtuers, before facing Uruguay and Egypt in their remaining two games.
You can find details of all of the top Irish bookmakers here at BettingTop10, including Ladbrokes, who have Germany, France and Brazil priced up as co-favourites for the tournament at 5/1.