Tunisia’s 2018 World Cup opener vs. England ‘key to qualification’, says coach Nabil Maaloul

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The Carthage Eagles gaffer opined that how they fare against the Three Lions will determine whether or not they would record success in Russia

Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul believes that for his team to make a real impact at the Russia 2018 World Cup they must record a positive result in their opener against England.

The north African country returned to the quadrennial showpiece since 2006 and have been drawn with Belgium, Panama and the Three Lions in Group G.

And Maaloul admitted to the difficulty of the group and affirmed that their first game against the Gareth Southgate's men at the Volgograd Stadium on June 18 will go a long way in their quest to progress.

"The key to qualification is going to be the first match, on 18 June, against England," Maaloul told BBC Sport.

"England have got a lot better this year, especially after appointing a new coach and fielding young talent.

"Dele Alli and Harry Kane are exceptional players. For me, Kane is one of the greatest forwards in the world right now.

"It's a difficult group but we were expecting a difficult draw because if you are in Pot 3, you are going to have some great footballing nations - like Belgium and England.

"Belgium are ranked fifth in the world - and are one of the great nations in the world, not only in Europe. They have talented players.

"We have to pay great attention to England and Belgium without forgetting Panama, who could be a surprise. It may be the first time they have qualified for the World Cup but we have to pay them attention as well.”

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The former Tunisia international hopes the Carthage Eagles break the jinx of not reaching the knock-out stage of a World Cup since their debut appearance in 1978.

"We have a great chance," he continued.

"We have talented players - players who are at the summit of their form and young players too. The average age of this Tunisian squad is 26 and despite meeting England, we have a great chance of reaching the second round."