Group G & H Matchday One Previews : The Challenge Begins for England
Event Venue: Sochi, Volgograd, Saransk and the Otkritie Arena, Moscow, 18 and 19 June. Live on BBC1 and ITV.See Stats
These two World Cup groups kick off on June 18 and 19. Our preview looks ahead to the opening fixtures in Group G and H and of course there's plenty of home interest as England kick off their campaign against Tunisia.
Belgium v Panama - Monday 18 June 6pm
Belgium are ranked third in the world by FIFA and it's about time they took a tournament by the scruff of the neck. Too often they look like potential winners and then put in a poor performance and out they go. The Belgians won their qualifying group by nine points and scored 46 goals. Anyone who watches England's top flight will know just how good the likes of Kevin Du Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku can be and they should be able to get a convincing win over Panama to get them on track.
This is the first time that Panama have qualified for the finals and it could be a bumpy ride. They actually have something in common with Burnley. Panama qualified in third in their group despite having a negative goal diffference, just as Burnley managed to get European football despite scoring less than they conceded. Panama only won three out of ten qualifiers to get to Russia which must make countries like Italy and the Netherlands feel a bit sick. The Panama team have only won one of their last seven games and recent losses include a 6-0 thrashing by Switzerland. Go for Belgium to win this game on a -2 handicap.
Tunisia v England - Monday 18 June - 9pm
So the torture begins because that's often what it is watching England in this tournament. Too often they fail to get a win in their opening game meaning they have to play catch-up in the remaining two games. England aren't going to win the World Cup this year but a run to the quarter finals is on the cards thanks to a kind draw. They did well in a weak qualifying group and Gareth Southgate has named a squad that is talented but inexperienced. They are unbeaten in their last ten games and had two good wins over Nigeria and Costa Rica and should be able to start this tournament off with three points and calm our nerves.
Tunisia were unbeaten in their qualifying group edging out DR Congo by a point who they earned four points against home and away. This is their first appearance in the finals since 2006 and in a total of four tournaments they have never made it out of their group and failed to win any games in the last three. In 1998 they were drawn in England's group and lost 2-0. They have had wins over Iran and Costa Rica this year but this looks a game that England can get a comfortable win in, so back them on a -1 handicap.
Get odds of 6/5 on England winning on a -1 handicap with Betfair (18+ t&c's apply)
Poland v Senegal - Tuesday 19 June 1pm
Poland are the only European side in this cosmopolitan group and the winners and runner-up in Group H take on the qualifiers from England's group. It's the weakest group on paper so you can see why there's lots of talk of England making the quarter finals but a last sixteen game against Poland would be tricky. The Poles are currently ranked eighth in the FIFA World Rankings and won their qualifying group by five points though it wasn't the strongest with main opposition being Denmark and Montenegro. This is their third consecutive finals but the last two have both seen them eliminated at the group stage. Current form is patchy with losses to Nigeria and Mexico and their high ranking looks a bit of flattery and a lot of hope will be placed in Robert Lewandowski who scored 16 goals in their qualifying group.
They kick off with a game against Senegal whose only appearance at the finals was in 2002 reaching the quarter finals and beating France along the way. Senegal won their qualifying group by five points and were unbeaten. 2017 saw them reach the quarter finals of the African Cup of Nations but they are yet to win a game this year with two recent goalless draws and a 2-1 loss to Croatia. A bet on Poland getting the win looks a good one here.
You can get odds of 11/8 on Poland to beat Senegal with Sun Bets (18+ t&c's apply)
Colombia v Japan - Tuesday 19 June 4pm
Colombia finished fourth in the South American qualifying group just getting the final automatic qualification place. Their away form wasn't that impressive so they have to work on that if they want to get out of this group. This is only their second World Cup finals since 1998 but they did reach the last eight in 2014 winning four successive games before losing 2- to Brazil. Players familiar to English fans include goalkeeper David Ospina who has been capped 86 times for Colombia, Davinson Sanchez of Tottenham and Brighton forward Jose Izquierdo. They will be looking for inspiration from James Rodriguez who was top scorer in the 2014 World Cup and Monaco's Radmael Falcao. They have struggled for goals of late though with two goalless draws against Australia and Egypt.
They take on Japan who narrowly won their qualifying group ahead of South Korea and Syria. They have failed to win a game at three of the last five World Cup tournaments and aren't in good form going into this tournament and up to June 8 had gone five games without a win with four defeats. Another defeat looks on the way here and the conclusion of this preview is for Colombia to get the three points.
Current odds for Colombia to beat Japan are 4/6 with William Hill (18+ t&c's apply)
- England have only won one of their last eight games in World Cup finals.
- England are unbeaten in their last ten internationals.
- Tunisia have conceded in each of their last nine away games
- Belgium last lost a game in September 2016
- There have been under 2.5 goals scored in three of the last four games Belgium have played in the World Cup finals.
- Panama have only scored one goal in their last five games.
- Poland have lost six of their last eight games in the World Cup finals
- Senegal have played five games in the World Cup finals and never lost over 90 minutes.
- Colombia have won four of their last five games at the World Cup finals.
- Up to June 8, Japan had gone five games without a win.
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