Who are England’s group stage opponents at World Cup 2018 & who could they play in knockouts?

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The Three Lions are aiming to win the tournament for the second time, but who will they play in Russia this summer?

England head to Russia for the 2018 World Cup this summer and will be eager to end decades of heartache by making their mark at the tournament.

It will be the 15th time the Three Lions have competed on the biggest stage in world football, as Gareth Southgate plots a way to win the trophy his country last lifted in 1966.

In order to do so they will have to win seven games in total, but they first have to get through the group stage, where three other challengers await them.

Ahead of the big kick off in June, Goal takes a look at England's World Cup opponents, as well as taking a look at who they might face in the knockout stage.


England's World Cup 2018 opponents


Date Match Time (BST) Venue
Jun 18 Tunisia vs England 19:00 Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
Jun 24 England vs Panama 13:00 Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
Jun 28 England vs Belgium 19:00 Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad

England have been drawn alongside Belgium, Panama and Tunisia in Group G of the 2018 World Cup, meaning that they are up against opposition from Europe, Central America and Africa.

Tunisia are first up for the Three Lions on June 18 and they will face off against the African outfit at the Volgograd Arena.

Six days after that, on June 24, Southgate's men will come up against World Cup debutants Panama at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.

Their final group game then comes four days later, with fellow European side Belgium lying in wait at the Kaliningrad Stadium. 


Belgium


Romelu Lukaku Eden Hazard Belgium Mexico

How did they qualify?

Belgium reached the World Cup by finishing top of UEFA qualifying Group H, ahead of Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Red Devils came through qualification unbeaten, winning nine games and drawing once. In a demonstration of their attacking prowess, they averaged 4.3 goals per game and their defence was similarly impressive as they conceded just six times - three of which came in a 4-3 victory over Bosnia. They were seeded in Pot One for the draw.

Who are their key players?

Belgium are undoubtedly England's most difficult opponent in Group G, boasting an array of world-class players, most of whom the English public will be familiar with. Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku was their top scorer in qualification, bagging 11 goals, while Chelsea's Eden Hazard scored six and they will be the chief goal-threats for Southgate's team.

As well as Hazard and Lukaku, Belgium will arrive in Russia equipped with Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who was recently nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award, and Roma star Radja Nainggolan and free-scoring Napoli forward Dries Mertens. Their defence is stacked with experience and it will be difficult for any team to find a way past the likes of Man City captain Vincent Kompany, as well as Tottenham duo Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.

Who is their manager?

Former Everton manager Roberto Martinez has been Belgium's head coach since August 2016 and the Spaniard has been assisted by a coaching team that includes former France international Thierry Henry. Martinez spent the majority of his career - both as a player and manager - in England and boasts plenty of insight into the players he will come up against when his side face the Three Lions on June 28.


Panama


Roman Torres Panama

How did they qualify?

Panama are competing in the World Cup for the first time in their history after finishing third in the final - hexagonal - CONCACAF qualification round, ahead of Honduras, the United States and Trinidad and Tobago. Los Canaleros took points from Mexico and the United States, as well as beating Costa Rica and Honduras on their way to making history. They were fourth seeds for the draw.

Who are their key players?

The majority of Panama's players ply their trades in Major League Soccer, with a number of them dotted throughout Central and South America. Seattle Sounders defender Roman Torres is their captain and was one of their key men in qualification, so they will look to him for leadership in Russia. Midfielder Gabriel Gomez is their most capped player of all time and his experience will be crucial if they are to upset their more vaunted opponents, while Huachipato striker Gabriel Torres is their main goal-threat.

Who is their manager?

Panama's head coach is Hernan Dario Gomez, who has previously managed teams such as Colombia, Ecuador and Medellin. The vastly experienced Colombian was appointed to the post in 2014 and has coached teams at World Cups in the past, having led Colombia to France 1998 and Ecuador to Japan and Korea 2002. Interestingly, at the 1998 World Cup, Gomez's Colombia came up against England and Tunisia, so there is an intriguing sub-plot at play.


Tunisia


Wahbi Khazri Tunisia

How did they qualify?

Tunisia will take part in their fifth World Cup after coming through the CAF qualification process as group winners. The Eagles went unbeaten in the final stage, recording wins over Guinea, Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tunisia were seeded in Pot Three for the group stage draw.

Who are their key players?

Unfortunately for Tunisia they will be without one of their key players for the World Cup after striker Youssef Msakni suffered a devastating knee ligament injury while playing for his club Al-Duhail in April. They possess a relatively youthful squad, with a number of players on the books at clubs in Ligue 1. With Msakni out, Sunderland midfielder Wahbi Khazri, who is currently on loan at Rennes, will shoulder much of the creative burden. Goalkeeper and team captain Aymen Mathlouthi will look to lead from the back, while Leicester City defender Yohan Benalouane recently declared for the country.

Who is their manager?

Former Tunisia international Nabil Maaloul will preside over his country's fortunes in Russia. Appointed for the second time in April 2017, Maaloul has long been involved with his country and enjoyed some managerial success at club level with ES Tunis, winning two league titles as well as the CAF Champions League. 


Who could England get in the knockouts?


Gareth Southgate England

Should England qualify from Group G as one of the top two teams we know for sure that they will play a team from Group H in the round of 16. The four teams that make up Group H are: Colombia, Japan, Poland and Senegal.

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Given that the four aforementioned teams are all of similar quality it is difficult to predict which of them are likely to proceed to the last 16 phase, but Colombia, with the likes of Falcao and James Rodriguez in their ranks, and the Robert Lewandowski-led Poland are probably favourites to advance.

However, the pool of potential opponents becomes larger from the quarter-final stage on. Now, working on the presumption that England qualify, then defeat Group H's representatives in the last 16, they would come up against a team from either Group E or F in the quarter-final. Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia make up Group E, while Germany, Mexico, Sweden and South Korea compete in Group F.

After that, if England manage to come through unscathed, they will play a team that emerged from one of Groups A, B, C and D in the semi-final. So that means they will avoid the giants such as Portugal, Spain, France and Argentina until this stage at the earliest.

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