England will be looking to get off to a flying start to their 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign as they face Tunisia in their Group G opener.
England breezed through the European qualifiers for the World Cup, despite the managerial merry-go-round that was in process at the time. Pitted in Group G alongside the likes of Scotland and Slovakia among others, England remained unbeaten throughout the campaign, conceding just three goals in the entirety of the qualification process to book their place in Russia.
While Tunisia also remained unbeaten, they had fewer matches to play and only managed to narrowly edge DR Congo en route to the World Cup. Tunisia, like England though, were always expected to qualify from their group and would have been relieved to have edged DR Congo out for a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Gareth Southgate’s advent has seen England command a new energetic look, with the former Middlesbrough manager able to make the Three Lions’ backline an almost airtight defence. Their defence has already passed the litmus test, keeping clean sheets in friendlies against Germany, Brazil and Netherlands.
The attack does look a little bit off-rhythm at times, but has shown signs of improvement.
For Tunisia, their warmup games provided several positives for the African nation. They drew against the likes of Portugal and Turkey while succumbing to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Spain. The results show Tunisia are far from pushovers and could take Group G by surprise, should the likes of England and Belgium not be wary of their threat.
We run the rule over the two squads.
Team News & Tactics
Gareth Southgate has found much success in the three-man backline setup and is likely to continue deploying the same formation, with Kyle Walker’s role as the right centre-back a certain fix. Southgate though, is set to spring a surprise, with Ashley Young touted to start in the left wing-back role, ahead of Danny Rose.
Harry Maguire is also being reportedly lined up on the left of the three-man backline, with Southgate opting to go for the Leicester man over Gary Cahill, which will also be a big call.
With Marcus Rashford still nursing his knock, Raheem Sterling will likely partner Harry Kane upfront, with Jesse Lingard playing in the hole – the number 10 role that he seems to revel in, with his fluid off-the-ball movement.
Kieran Trippier is a certainty on the right side, with Dele Alli and Jordan Henderson likely to start in midfield. The Liverpool captain is reportedly being preferred by Southgate for the opener, over Eric Dier.
Jordan Pickford is the designated first-choice as confirmed by Southgate and the Everton stopper should command the goal for England for the opening match in Group G against Tunisia.
Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Henderson, Alli, Young; Lingard; Sterling, Kane
Tunisia, unlike England, do not have starry names in their squad. But, the African nation has managed to follow Nabil Maaloul, who has ably established a tactical imprint on the national team, one that seems to be working.
Wahbi Khazri is the only distinctively recognisable name within the squad and was the lynchpin in Tunisia’s qualification journey. But, the player has not started any of the friendlies in the leadup to the World Cup and there are signs that he may have to be satisfied with a place on the bench, at least for the opening match in Group G.
Mouez Hassen also seems to have done enough to impress Maaloul to prefer him over Farouk Ben Mustapha and should start in goal for Tunisia. Elsewhere, the lineup from the friendlies is set to retained, with the highlight being Khazri’s place taken by Saif-Eddine Khaoui.
Maaloul likes the modern 4-2-3-1 and should deploy his squad in the same formation. It will be interesting to see how they are able to counter the extra man available in midfield for England due to their three-man backline.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Hassen; Bronn, Meriah, Syam Ben Youssef, Maaloul; Skhiri, Sassi; Badri, Khaoui, Sliti; Fakhreddine Ben Youssef
1. England have met Tunisia only once at the World Cup, with the Three Lions emerging victorious by a margin of 2-0 in the 1998 edition.
2. England are yet to lose a game after the appointment of Gareth Southgate as the national team manager.
3. Tunisia have failed to win their last 11 games at the World Cup and have kept just one clean sheet in their last 12 matches at the event.
4. England have never lost to an opposition from Africa at the World Cup.
5. England are the only nation in Russia with the entire squad playing in the domestic league.
Player to Watch
Ashley Young’s career has been given a second wing by Jose Mourinho at Manchester United. His form saw him being selected by Gareth Southgate to be on the plane for the World Cup. But, according to reports, the veteran has done enough to warrant a start for England against Tunisia, something which no one would have envisaged a year ago.
It will be up to the Manchester United star to make the most of the chance provided by Southgate. With a young lineup set to be named by Southgate, Young will be the most experienced England player on the pitch at kick-off and the manager will be hoping he can tap into his experience to keep the young stars under check.
England 1-0 Tunisia
England’s airtight defence should be tested by Tunisia. But, the truth of the matter is, the African nation themselves, have been struggling to lodge the ball into the back of the net with some consistency. Now, with Wahbi Khazri unlikely to start, Tunisia could have a dearth of creativity on the field.
England should be able to keep Tunisia from scoring. But, their own goalscoring woes could prop up. Bearing in mind that Harry Kane is set to make his World Cup debut, the goal machine might struggle a bit, but Gareth Southgate’s men should be able to find a winner from someone to kick their World Cup campaign off with all three points.