As we have now just passed the 50-day mark until the World Cup, can we officially say it is time to get excited? For England fans, so disheartened by the last few major tournaments, let’s say that any excitement is also mixed with a little trepidation. However, there are some good signs coming from the recent performances of Gareth Southgate’s men that suggest they could leave a more positive impact in Russia.
Before getting into the possibilities of how far England could go, they will, of course, have to navigate the group stage. When the draw was made, Southgate would have been reasonably happy with Belgium, Panama and Tunisia. However, it might be a little trickier than it looks. Here is a quick run-down of those three opponents:
They are the favourites (5/6) to top Group G, and even the most ardent England fans would find that difficult to argue against. There is so much to like about this Belgium side: a world class keeper in Courtois; brilliant defenders in Vertonghen and Kompany; the midfield of De Bruyne, Nainggolan and Hazard; the attacking options offered by Mertens and Lukaku. In fact, Belgium’s stock has risen so much in recent years that they are considered the value bet at 12/1 to win the World Cup. You can check out thebookiesoffers.co.uk for the latest free bets to back them, England or anyone else.
Key man: Kevin De Bruyne – it’s his time to stake a claim to be the best player in the world.
England play Tunisia in their opening fixture and they may be in for a tougher game than most believe. The North African side are now ranked as high is 14th in the world, England by comparison are 13th. It would be nevertheless a huge shock if they beat England and went on to qualify from Group G (5/1 odds). However, don’t be completely shocked if the Tunisians come away with a point from that first game. They are hard to break down and could sucker punch England if they are not careful.
Key man: Wahbi Khazri – something of an enigma at Sunderland, but now much improved at Rennes (on loan). He is one of those players who can make a goal from nothing. Beware.
Panama have qualified for the first World Cup in their history, so it is likely their biggest aspiration will simply be to avoid being the group whipping boys. Can they cause an upset? Probably not. They are priced around 50/1 to win the group and up to 2000/1 to win the World Cup. However, they will likely draw inspiration from fellow Central Americans, Costa Rica, who confounded the odds to reach the quarter finals in 2014. That, of course, came at the expense of England, so you can guarantee that Southgate won’t take the Panamanians lightly.
Key Man: Gabriel Gomez – 143 caps and counting for the midfielder whose main job will be to screen the defence. He will likely be very busy in Russia.
And a quick note on England:
This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-ND
England should qualify with Belgium to reach the Last 16, where one of Colombia, Poland, Japan or Senegal will await them. After that (if successful), they are likely to come up against the likes of Brazil or Germany. The question for many fans is what will constitute success? You could argue that a run to the quarters would give Gareth Southgate’s young side something to build on. 16/1 if you fancy the Three Lions to go all the way.