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Don’t Bank on an England Win against Tunisia

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June 14, 2018
Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane embracing after England win

Tunisia v England, Monday 18th June, 19:00

Despite many many years of hurt, the English invariably head to major tournaments with unreasonable and often unwarranted levels of expectation on their shoulders. All too often this has backfired horribly, and they now have an unwanted record of not having won a knockout tie at a major tournament since 2006. In fact, they have only won six knockout games at major tournaments since winning the World Cup in 1966. But this year is different. Gareth Southgate’s young squad – an average age of just 26 – head to Russia with hope but with limited expectation levels.

Southgate has played a blinder so far – always easier when a ball is yet to be kicked – and has achieved the impossible of getting the English press on board; in part achieved by engineering an atmosphere of inclusivity and warmth in his camp. What he now needs is to translate this feelgood factor to the pitch, starting on Monday night against Tunisia. A few selection headaches will need to be negotiated first – Dier or Henderson as the defensive midfield shield, Rose or Young at left wing-back and Cahill or Maguire at left-sided centre-back – but regardless, England should have enough in the tank to get their World Cup off to a winning start.

For their part, the Tunisians consider themselves in decent shape; a not unreasonable stance given that they were unbeaten in qualifying – edging out Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and Guinea along the way. But with England and Belgium firm favourites to take the top two qualifying spots, it’ll take something exceptional for them to progress to the knockout stages for the first time.

With this being their first tournament since Germany 2006, they have a squad that is sampling major tournament football for the first time and which includes a new exciting generation of players, including Wahbi Khazri and former Monaco defender Aymen Abdennour. For goals they will be relying heavily on Youssef Msakni – a 27-year-old striker who played a key role in their qualifying, scoring a hat-trick in an away win to Guinea.

Those who head for stats ahead of gut feel when making their bets will struggle to find an argument for anything other than an England win – England winning their only other World Cup encounter 2-0, in Marseille 1998, when, again, it was their opening match of the tournament.

But, and it’s a big but, if there is one thing England are good at, it’s underwhelming at big tournaments. And so, while an England win – perhaps a repeat of the aforementioned 2-0 – will be a popular bet, with the Tunisians guaranteed to be fired up for this opener, do not discount the draw at a tasty 33/10 with BetVictor. World Cups are riddled with tentative opening games, neither side risking defeat, and this could be another to add to that list.

Hazard and De Bruyne will Outclass Panama in Belgium’s Opener

Belgium v Panama, Monday 18th June, 16:00

Belgium arrive in Russia in fine fettle and start the tournaments as one of the fancied teams. In their favour, they have a group of quality players who have played together for several years – known as their nation’s ‘golden generation’ – and a form guide that shows them unbeaten in their last 19 games. But, and it’s a big but, they have yet to deliver at the highest level and most recently crumbled under the pressure of Euro 2016 when beaten by Wales in the quarter-finals.

Four years ago, with a not dissimilar squad to the one that’s now in Russia, they breezed through their group, topping Group H with three straight wins, and then progressed through to the last eight with a 2-1 win over the USA after extra-time. But there was to be no fairy-tale and their tournament ended at the quarter-final stage when they produced a limp, listless performance in a 1-0 defeat by Argentina.

But now is the time. Their ‘golden generation’ are reaching their collective footballing peak and, in many ways, it’s a ‘now or never’ moment for the Belgians. And with them drawn in a group that, on paper, looks comfortable they simply have to take that opportunity. Under the coaching of Roberto Martinez, they have found a way of playing that utilises the mesmeric skills of Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard – two of the best players in Europe – and with Man Utd’s Romelu Lukaku leading their line they have all the tools needed to go deep in this tournament.

Panama, by contrast, enter the competition with few expectations other than to soak up every second of their first-ever World Cup experience. The Central Americans qualified for Russia courtesy of a 2-1 win over Costa Rica in the final qualify game and such was the outpouring of joy it was declared a national holiday. But with a FIFA ranking of 55 they are the epitome of outsiders and, while gritty, tenacious and determined, will find it difficult to make too much of a dent in the tournament. Their key player is striker Luis Tejada – who has scored 43 times for his country – and they will lean on him heavily for goals. They have quality in the technical area too, their coach – the Colombian Hernan Dario Gomez, has World Cup previous and steered his native country to the tournament in 1998 and did the same for Ecuador in 2002.

The stats point to a comfortable win for the Belgians, and with them averaging 3.4 goals per game over their last ten, the 3-0 win at 9/2 with Jetbull makes plenty of appeal. Panama’s momentum, not to mention their ongoing joie de vivre from qualifying, will clearly have an impact but any money on a win for the Central Americans is highly risky.

About the author

Eric Roberts
Eric Roberts

Sports Journalist

Eric has been a sports journalist for over 20 years and has travelled the world covering top sporting events for a number of publications. He also has a passion for betting and uses his in-depth knowledge of the sports world to pinpoint outstanding odds and value betting opportunities.