2018 World Cup, Group G Preview: Belgium and England fight for top spotby Jack Kitson / 14 June 2018, 14:44Tweet
Group G contains an extremely strong Belgium outfit and a youthful England, who are both expected to tussle it out for top-spot, while debutantes Panama and fellow underdogs Tunisia attempt to cause a shock or two at the 2018 World Cup.
- Roberto Martinez (Belgium)
- Hernan Dario Gomez (Panama)
- Nabil Maaloul (Tunisia)
- Gareth Southgate (England)
Belgium Manager: Roberto Martinez
Before we get underway let’s just get the inevitable “Golden Generation” tag out of the way. Belgium boast an exceptionally strong squad, many of whom have enjoyed stand-out seasons in the Premier League. While there’s no doubting the country's assortment of talented players, the main question marks surround their manager: Roberto Martinez.
The Spaniard was a surprise successor to Marc Wilmots in 2016, and while results have actually been decent - he’s only lost 1 of his 20 games in charge and has a 70% win record - there’s a sense that this Belgium side should be performing to a much high-level as they bid to show the world what they are truly capable of.
Belgium should waltz through their opening two games, before locking horns with England, in what is likely to determine Group G’s victor. The Three Lions clash should put the Red Devils in good stead ahead of more testing teams in the knockout stages. If the starting-11 gels and Martinez’s successfully squeezes every drop of his star players, then they will be serious contenders come the latter stages of the tournament. The main task will be trying to put together a system that gets the best out of playmaker Kevin De Bruyne.
Interesting Fact: Martinez has a post-graduate diploma in business and marketing from Manchester University.
Panama Manager: Hernan Dario Gomez
It won’t come as a surprise to learn that Hernan Dario Gomez is an absolute icon in Panama, after he became the first manager in the country’s history to lead 'Los Canaleros' (the Canal Men) through to a World Cup.
It was in dramatic fashion too, with Gomez’s men scoring a last-gasp winner in their final qualifying match, which prompted president Juan Carlos Varela to declare a national holiday.
The colourful Colombian coach was previously an assistant manager during his country’s 1990 and 1994 World cup campaigns, while he managed Los Cafeteros in his own right at France 1998. He’s since soared Ecuador to their very first World Cup (2002), and then repeated the feat with Panama, meaning he’s one of only two managers to take three different national teams through to the Finals.
Panama’s squad is predominantly made up of home-based players with organisation and physicality key to their success to date. Their chances of making the knockout stages are very slim (11/1), but they will be spurred on by 4,000 excited fans who will make the 7,000 mile trip over to Russia for the country's World Cup debut.
Interesting Fact: Gomez is nicknamed ‘El Bolillo’ which translates as ‘The Truncheon'.
Prediction: Group Stages
Tunisia Manager: Nabil Maaloul
Nabil Maaloul takes Tunisia over to Russia with history in his sights as he bids to become the first manager in the country’s history to make it out of the group stages and into the last-16.
Tunisia, who back in 1978 became the first African country to win a World Cup game under Abdelmajid Chetali, have tried and failed four times to reach the knockout stages of the tournament, but in truth the Eagles of Carthage face a daunting task of getting out of Group G, which features both Belgium and England.
Manager Maaloul is currently in his third spell in charge of Tunisia, with whom he made 74 appearances for as a player. He’s been at the helm for just over a year after he replaced Henryk Kasperczak, and proceeded to lead his country through to the World Cup.
Tunisia would no doubt be happy with just a win in Russia, something which has eluded them since that historic one and only victory over Mexico 40 years ago. Their best chance of doubling their winning tally comes in their final group game against Panama.
Interesting Fact: During a couple of Tunisia’s World Cup warm-up games Maaloul got his goalkeeper Mouez Hassan to feign injury so his squad could break their Ramadan fast and get some food and drink from the touchline.
Prediction: Group Stages
England Manager: Gareth Southgate
After three disappointing tournaments under Roy Hodgson, England have placed their trust in Gareth Southgate who replaced the one game wonder Sam Allardyce back in September 2016. The 47-year-old has been both a refreshing and calming presence at the helm of The Three Lions, and has been widely praised for his cool and collected demeanor, along with his intelligence, openness and decision making.
As a player Southgate featured in three tournaments, Euro ‘96, France ‘98 and Euro 2000 - just don’t mention the penalty. Southgate ventured into management back in 2006 with Middlesbrough, finishing 12th, then 13th, but his troops slumped down to the Championship and he was axed shortly after. He would then return with the England U21s, before stepping up to the senior side in 2016.
England’s build-up has gone swimmingly, while they really couldn’t have picked out two more favourable opening games in Tunisia and Panama. Can Southgate go on and end 52 years of hurt? Probably not, but while expectations are low, hopes are high that England can at least give their passionate support something to shout about this time around.
Interesting Fact: Southgate could have had a career as an estate agent. He briefly worked in the property industry while he was in the Crystal Palace youth-team.