Belgium and England come into the tournament as dark horses for the title. Both sides have superstar players, but only one team will end top of the group and find a potentially easier route in the knockouts.

Tunisia and World Cup debutants Panama will look to pull off an unlikely shock and give the fans at home something to cheer about.

Group G consists of:

June 18 - Belgium v Panama (5pm), Tunisia v England (8pm)
June 23 - Belgium v Tunisia (2pm)
June 24 - England v Panama 2pm)
June 28 - England v Belgium, Panama v Tunisia (8pm)

World ranking: 3
Prediction: Quarter-finals
Best finish: Fourth (1986)
Coach: Roberto Martinez

Belgium, by virtue of their third-place Fifa ranking, are taking top spot in this group and are expected to fulfil their vast potential by reaching the last eight - at least.

The Red Devils flopped in their last major tournament, going out of the Euros two years ago in the quarter-finals. That saw a change in management with Marc Wilmots getting the boot despite leading the team to the top of the world rankings.

But with Roberto Martinez at the helm, this talented squad is starting to play with a lot more swagger. And that stinging defeat to Wales in the Euros will hopefully motivate them.

Martinez has a solid foundation for his team with Thibaut Courtois in goal and Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Vermaelen, Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen to pick in his three-man defence.

Ahead of them, Maroune Fellaini and Axel Witsel can anchor the midfield, with Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele adding the skills and drive from deep. Because Belgium lack natural fullbacks, Martinez picks his wide midfielders, depending on what the game requires.

That means Paris St Germain’s Thomas Meunier can come in to patrol the flanks or wingers Nacer Chadli, Yannick Carrasco or Dries Mertens can give the Belgian a lopsided feel.

Eden Hazard of Belgium. Photo: EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

Mertens is also capable of scoring vital goals if he plays in more central positions as he has proven with Napoli, for whom he scored 21 goals in Serie A this season.

But those roles are reserved for star manne Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne. The duo play as advanced midfielders behind Romelu Lukaku, where they can weave their magic.

Hazard has been named the best player in the Premier League on two occasions and he will be keen to emulate those Chelsea performances on the world stage.

With his dangerous runs, he scored six goals in qualifying and will look to create chances for Lukaku and assist king De Bruyne, who plays much higher up on the pitch for the national team than for Manchester City.

Lukaku, who scored 11 goals on the road to Russia, will look to be clinical with his chances.

Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet, Koen Casteels
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Vermaelen, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Meunier, Dedryck Boyata
Midfielders: Axel Witsel, Kevin de Bruyne, Marouane Fellaini, Yannick Carrasco, Youri Tielemans, Adnan Januzaj, Mousa Dembéle, Nacer Chadli, Leander Dendoncker
Strikers: Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Thorgan Hazard, Michy Batshuayi

World ranking: 65
Prediction: Group stage
Best finish: Debut
Coach: Hernan Dario Gomez

Panama come to the World Cup as newcomers. But with a squad boasting six players with more than a century of international caps, the team has a ton of experience. 

The downside is that the side lacks quality in abundance and will struggle against their group rivals. Coach Hernan Darío Gomez’s team is well-drilled and qualified ahead a well-resourced USA side.


Their game plan is simple: Keep it tight and try to hit opponents on the break. There are some clever players with ability, but it’s really just long balls to Blas Perez and Luis Tejada, who either go for goal or hold it up for the on-rushing midfielders. They will try to score from setpieces too.

Goalkeepers: Jaime Penedo, Jose Calderon, Alex Rodriguez.
Defenders: Michael Amir Murillo, Harold Cummings, Fidel Escobar, Roman Torres, Adolfo Machado, Erick Davis, Luis Ovalle, Felipe Baloy
Midfielders: Gabriel Gomez, Edgar Barcenas, Armando Cooper, Valentín Pimentel, Ricardo Ávila, Aníbal Godoy, Jose Luis Rodríguez
Strikers: Blas Perez, Gabriel Torres, Ismael Díaz, Luis Tejada, Abdiel Arroyo

World ranking: 21
Prediction: Group stage
Best finish: Group stage
Coach: Nabil Maaloul

Tunisia come to the World Cup full of confidence and playing as a unit. 

The Carthage Eagles have lost only once in the last two years and that defeat came at the hands of World Cup favourites Spain, who, according to group rivals Belgium boss Roberto Martinez, got lucky against the Africans. 

This year, Nabil Maaloul’s manne have beaten Iran and Costa Rica and held Portugal to a 2-2 draw. It’s a record Tunisia can be proud of and should passionately defend. 

Built on a strong defence, centreback options have been boosted by Leicester defender Yohan Benalouane, who has made an immediate impact in his four caps.

The midfield is packed by players with French Ligue 1 experience, but it’s the duo of Esperance Tunis winger Anice Badri and top-scorer Wahbi Khazri that carry the most threat.

Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha, Aymen Mathlouthi, Mouez Hassen
Defenders: Syam Ben Youssef, Yohan Benalouane, Yassine Meriah, Oussama Haddadi, Rami Bedoui, Dylan Bronn, Ali Maâloul, Hamdi Nagguez
Midfielders: Saîf-Eddine Khaoui, Wahbi Khazri, Ferjani Sassi, Mohamed Amine Ben Amor, Ahmed Khalil, Ellyes Skhiri, Bassem Srarfi, Ghailene Chaalali, Naïm Sliti
Strikers: Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, Anice Badri, Saber Khalifa

World ranking: 12
Prediction: Quarter-finals
Best finish: Winners in 1966
Coach: Gareth Southgate

England has been playing some good football recently and will be quietly confident that they can replicate their form in Russia.

Built on a tight defence, which only conceded three times in qualifying, they know that talking big ahead of major tournaments gets them nowhere.

Gareth Southgate’s team play with a three-man defence, where John Stones and Harry Maguire can play out, with a host of wingbacks like Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Ashley Young and Trent Alexander-Arnold who can add width to the attack.

Eric Dier or Jordan Henderson can anchor the midfield with Harry Kane as the focal point in attack.

Behind the captain and hitman Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford are all options for Southgate.


But while England boasts pacy ball carriers, they do lack a natural ball-player in the midfield.

With Jack Wilshere watching the World Cup from home, Alli may have to play further away from Kane than he does at Spurs.

Or the coach can turn to Ruben Loftus-Cheek who impressed for Crystal Palace this season with his range of passing.

England will have to shake off the disappointment of that first-round exit in Brazil and the Euro humiliation at the hands of Iceland.

Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland, Nick Pope
Defenders: Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Kieran Trippier, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Fabian Delph, Ashley Young, Trent Alexander-Arnold
Midfielders: Eric Dier, Jesse Lingard, Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli, Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Strikers: Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jamie Vardy, Danny Welbeck, Marcus Rashford

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