England's World Cup 2018 group: Belgium, Panama & Tunisia, top players & route to final

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The Three Lions have been handed a tough test against Eden Hazard and Co. but will be confident of progressing to the knockout stage

England will play Belgium, Panama and Tunisia in Group G at next summer's World Cup in Russia.

The draw for the finals was made on Friday afternoon at the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow and the Three Lions were handed a first round that they will believe they can successfully navigate for a place in the knockouts.

Panama are playing at their first World Cup ever, while Tunisia have not qualified since 2006 and have just one finals win in their history.

Top seed Belgium, however, are sure to present a stern test and will be hoping to make a run into the later rounds of the tournament after a quarter-final appearance in 2014.

Goal has your complete guide to the opponents England will be facing at the finals.


BELGIUM


Eden Hazard Belgium

Belgium have one of the most talented squads on the planet and are looking to take the next step at a major tournament having reached the quarter-finals at the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016.

They breezed through qualifying, slipping up only once - in a 1-1 draw against Greece - and scoring a remarkable 43 goals in 10 games.

Section GP W D L GF GA
UEFA (Europe) 10 9 1 0 43 6

Coached by former Everton manager Roberto Martinez, Belgium are captained by Chelsea star Eden Hazard.

He is not the only Premier League star in their squad, with Thibaut Courtois their first-choice goalkeeper and Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne, Mousa Dembele and Romelu Lukaku also major players in the English top flight.

For all their quality on paper, though, Belgium are still looking to prove themselves against the world's top nations.

They were sent home by Wales at the last European Championship and also lost to Italy, while Argentina knocked them out of the last World Cup in Brazil.


PANAMA


Roman Torres Panama

Panama were the beneficiaries of the United States' stunning collapse in CONCACAF qualifying, reaching the World Cup finals for the first time in their history.

There was pandemonium in Panama City when defender Roman Torres scored a dramatic 88th-minute winning goal in the final match to seal a 2-1 victory over Costa Rica that pushed Los Canaleros above the Americans and Honduras.

Section GP W D L GF GA
CONCACAF (North & Central America) 10 3 4 3 9 10

Panama are coached by Hernan Dario Gomez, who guided Colombia and Ecuador to World Cups in 1998 and 2002 and has now become only the second manager in history to achieve the feat with three different nations.

They are captained by 36-year-old defender Felipe Baloy and have another vastly experienced veteran in forward Blas Perez, who has scored 43 goals in 115 games.

Panama will be massive underdogs, though; days before they pipped the USA to a place at the finals they had been beaten 4-0 by them and also lost to bottom-side Trinidad & Tobago.


TUNISIA


Tunisia World Cup

Tunisia retained an unbeaten record in qualifying for the World Cup, though their final group was not the toughest: they ousted DR Congo, Libya and Guinea to reach the finals.

They are returning to the finals for the first time since 2006, which was the third of three consecutive tournaments they reached but once again ended in the group stage without a win.

Section GP W D L GF GA
CAF (Africa) 6 4 2 0 11 4

The only other World Cup the Eagles of Carthage have qualified for was in 1978, when they recorded their sole victory over Mexico.

Tunisia are coached by Nabil Maaloul, who is managing the senior team for the second time in his career, and their captain is Etoile du Sahel goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi.

Most of their players ply their club trade in the domestic Tunisian league, but the likes of Aymen Abdennour of Marseille and Wahbi Khazri, who left Sunderland for a loan at Rennes in the summer, will be more familiar to European fans.

Like Panama, Tunisia are considered big outsiders to make a deep run at the tournament.


ENGLAND


Raheem Sterling England

England have qualified for the World Cup finals for the 14th time. They have won the competition once, on home turf back in 1966.

The Three Lions made short work of their qualification group despite the sacking of manager Sam Allardyce after just one match. Gareth Southgate stepped up from the Under-21 team to take over and secured a spot in Russia without defeat.

Qualification record:

Section GP W D L GF GA
UEFA (Europe) 10 8 2 0 18 3

Qualifying has rarely been a problem for England, though; the 1994 World Cup is the only one they have missed since the 1970s.

A much greater challenge has been the finals themselves. England were back-to-back quarter-finalists in 2002 and 2006 but have not returned to that round since and could not make it out of the group stage in 2014.

England's typical squad was usually among the youngest of the teams that qualified and they will be hoping the energy of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and John Stones can deliver an improved display.

They do not have a permanent captain following the retirement of Wayne Rooney, but Chelsea defender Gary Cahill has tended to wear the armband when selected.

Qualification records shown are based on final rounds (excluding play-offs).


THE FIXTURE LIST


Date Match Time (BST) City
Jun 18 Belgium vs Panama 16:00 Sochi
Jun 18 Tunisia vs England 19:00 Volgograd
Jun 23 Belgium vs Tunisia 13:00 Moscow
Jun 24 England vs Panama 13:00 Nizhny Novgorod
Jun 28 England vs Belgium 18:00 Kaliningrad
Jun 28 Panama vs Tunisia 19:00 Saransk

England fans face plenty of travel throughout Russia - and, with their third match in Kaliningrad, even outside of the mainland. The exclave is located between Lithuania, Belarus, Poland and the Baltic Sea.

Kaliningrad is approximately a 16-hour drive from Moscow but the trip to Volgograd to face Tunisia in the opening game is also a long one, located 12 hours from the capital by road.

Nizhny Novgorod is closer - at least by Russian standards - at a seven-hour drive from Moscow.

England will take on Tunisia first before closing the group stage against Belgium after they have faced Panama.


ENGLAND'S ROUTE TO THE FINAL


James Rodriguez Colombia

Should England successfully progress from their group, we already have something of an idea of who they might face in the round of 16 because of the way the draw is mapped out.

Based on the seeding of the group the Three Lions' most likely finishing position is as runners-up of Group G, which would mean they will face the winners of Group H at the next stage.

The teams in Group H are Poland, Senegal, Colombia and Japan, with the Poles and Colombians the favourites to advance.

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Should England go one better and win Group G, they will play the runners-up from Group H instead of the winners.

If we look even further ahead, Groups G and H will be paired with Groups E and F at the quarter-final stage.

That means the likes of Germany or Brazil could be waiting if England are able to progress all the way to the last eight, but they will avoid Argentina, France, Portugal and Spain until at least the semi-finals.

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