Just moments ago, England learned who they would be playing in the group stages of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It’s a winnable group but not one without danger.
Here’s a team full of known quantities, with several top Belgian stars playing for Premier League teams. Among their most experienced, talented players, you have Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard, with 81 caps and 21 goals for his country – a skilful playmaker who could terrorise many a defence. There is also Thibaut Courtois, also with Chelsea – a highly regarded goalkeeper with 54 caps. Jan Vertonghen has 95 caps and has been a mainstay for Tottenham, along with midfielder Mousa Dembélé, who has 73 caps.
Another skilful midfielder is Man City star Kevin De Bruyne, who has been in good form for his club. He’s got 55 caps for Belgium and 12 goals and could well be one to watch. He could well be joined by club teammate Vincent Kompany, a veteran centre back who provides City with a great deal of defensive focus and strength. Kompany has 72 caps, whilst another experienced defender – Tottenham man Toby Alderweireld – might well be the man who lines up alongside Kompany in the middle of that defence.
Up front Belgium can look to Manchester United forward Romelu Lukaku for goals and he’s certainly proven pretty good at that over the past couple of years, however beyond Lukaku Belgium’s firepower is pretty limited. Lukaku has 28 goals from 62 caps, whilst Napoli striker Dries Mertens has 13 goals from 61 caps. However, with the experience and quality of players like Hazard and De Bruyne, England will have to concentrate and keep the ball, for Belgium will not lose possession easily.
The Tunisian national team is full of players who are frankly, complete mysteries. Some do play in European leagues, but there are also a number of players with little experience of the highest echelons of the game. The most experienced member of their squad is captain and ‘keeper Aymen Mathlouthi, with 69 caps at the time of writing. Their next most experienced player is striker Youssef Msakni, with 14 goals from 51 caps.
It would be a mistake to write them off, but with limited experience, they shouldn’t – shouldn’t – pose England too many problems
This team is even more of an unknown quantity. Many of their players are very experienced for their national side, with ‘keeper Jaime Penedo on 129 caps for his country, defender and captain Felipe Baloy on 99 caps and midfielder Armando Cooper on 96 caps, whilst forward Blas Pérez 115 caps. The issue for Panama is that the majority of their players play in comparatively inferior leagues, meaning they are once again a team that England should be beating.
Belgium will be by far England’s toughest test of the group stages and much will depend upon how the two teams handle the pressure – the England/Belgium clash will their final game of the group stage, very possibly determining who finishes top of the group. It may even decide who goes through.