World in Sport showcases Group G at the 2018 World Cup, as two UEFA outfits expect to advance to the round of 16.
While two teams in the group have an extensive history at the World Cup, one has never been here before and the other has never escaped group stage.
Belgium and England are the certain favorites in group G, while Panama and Tunisia have the odds stacked against them. That is, of course, why they play the matches, because you never know where the surprises can come from.
Let’s reveal the four teams that will be competing in group G, as well as the schedule.
**All times listed in local Russia time, with the UTC and Eastern Time Zones included**
Belgium – England – Panama – Tunisia
Odds to Win Group G (Bwin.com):
Match-by-match schedule for group G:
18 June 2018 (Match 1)
18:00 MSK (UTC+3) 11 A.M ET
Belgium Vs Panama @ Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
18 June 2018 (Match 2)
21:00 MSK (UTC+3) 2 P.M ET
Tunisia Vs England @ Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
23 June 2018 (Match 3)
15:00 MSK (UTC+3) 8 A.M ET
Belgium Vs Tunisia @ Otkritie Arena, Moscow
24 June 2018 (Match 4)
15:00 MSK (UTC+3) 8 A.M ET
England Vs Panama @ Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
28 June 2018 (Match 5)
20:00 KALT (UTC+2) 2 P.M ET
England Vs Belgium @ Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
28 June 2018 (Match 6)
21:00 MSK (UTC+3) 2 P.M ET
Panama Vs Tunisia @ Mordovia Arena, Saransk
Quick notes about the history of each team at the FIFA World Cup.
Belgium competed in the first three World Cups, but has only appeared in one of the last three competitions. The Red Devils are making their 13th showing at the World Cup overall, following up a quarterfinals appearance in 2014.
England will be making their 15th appearance at the World Cup in 2018, with their one title coming in 1966 when they hosted the event. England and Italy were the favorites to come out of their group in 2014, and neither were able to advance. Might we see a similar situation again in 2018?
Panama is making their first appearance at the World Cup in 2018. The Red Tide came oh-so-close to making 2014 their first showing at the Major event, but had to wait four more years to get here.
Tunisia is making their fifth appearance at the World Cup, although they have never progressed out of group stage. With only one win in team history that came in their first W.C in 1978, the line setters show them no respect in group G.
Belgium Team Page
For the team roster and other highlights, check the Belgian team page.
Belgium is listed as the outright favorite to win group G, handed a -125 by the odds makers.
De Rode Duivels enter the tournament ranked third in the World by FIFA, behind #1 Germany and #2 Brazil.
Despite reaching the #1 World ranking in 2015, there is no hardware at the Belgian headquarters to reveal. A shiny 1920 Olympic Gold Medal is all well and good, but this team still needs to show why they deserve such a high-ranking. This is a team that is listed at +1100 to win the World Cup, with 6 teams given better odds to hoist the trophy.
No disrespect intended, but in all honesty this team needs a major result at a Major event to justify their FIFA World Ranking.
Belgium did exactly what they were expected to do in UEFA World Cup qualification. Featured in group H, Belgium was placed with Greece, Estonia, Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Gibraltar.
Belgium scored 43 goals and allowed only 6 during qualifying group stage and, when you look at that group, why wouldn’t they have accomplished that? Suffice it to say that Belgium was the overwhelming favorite to win group H, so that was the easy part.
Carrying success to the big stage will be up to Manager Roberto Martinez. His job is to get this squad to respond to the pressure, and get Belgium deep into this tournament. Luckily, Martinez has experienced players who are spread out all over European leagues having success at club level.
Midfielder Kevin De Bruyne is coming off one of his best campaigns as a footballer, helping Manchester City take the 2017/18 Premier League title. In all, De Bruyne made 51 appearances for Manchester City in all competitions, scoring 12 times along the way.
His teammate at Man City, Vincent Kompany, is expected to be in Russia but injuries have certainly impacted his time on the pitch. Basically over the last three years, Kompany has struggled staying healthy, and he only made 16 appearances for Man City this year.
Radja Nainggolan will not be on the 23-man squad for Belgium, and he is one pissed off dude!
After announcing that he would retire from International play, his relationship with Martinez is simply not good. The Spanish manager left Nainggolan off the roster when qualifying began, and the two have not seen eye-to-eye since.
Midfielders Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini have combined to earn 163 caps, while Mousa Dembélé added 73 of his own caps to the mix.
Wearing the #10 jersey and the Captain’s arm band, Eden Hazard leads all forward in caps with 81. Hazard has been nothing but consistent in his last six campaigns with Chelsea, tallying 17 goals from all competitions with his Premier League outfit this past season.
The leading active goal scorer for Belgium is Romelu Lukaku, carrying his 30 tallies from 63 caps. His 11 goals paved the way for Belgium in UEFA qualifying, as no other player scored more than 6 goals during the process.
Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has not avoided controversy in his career, but it seems he will have the nod in net. He and back-up keeper Simon Mignolet aren’t exactly best friends, but the two will be in Russia together again.
England Team Page
For the team roster and other highlights, check the English team page.
England, as mentioned, was packing their bags for home much quicker then they had anticipated in 2014. They, too, have certainly under-achieved at the World Cup in recent showings, but not winning a single match in Brazil had lasting effects in regards to the team we’ll see on the pitch in Russia.
In 2014, Frank Lampard was the Captain of the English squad in Brazil, while Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard were seen as experienced leaders. None of the three will be doing anything but watching the 2018 World Cup from a pub in England. Or maybe Rooney will host another one of his house parties, and we will see the video evidence from someone’s cell phone during the matches.
Regardless, Harry Kane is now wearing the Captain’s arm band, and also wearing that important #10 jersey. At only 24, Kane has planted himself among the Premier League scoring leaders over the last four campaigns with Tottenham. Kane made 48 appearances with Tottenham in all competitions this year, and only proceeded to score 41 goals. That’s just incredible and, had it not been for the campaign that Mo Salah had with Liverpool, Kane would have led EPL with 30 goals in league play. Kane added 11 more tallies during Tottenham’s FA Cup and Champions League campaigns.
Forwards Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling mostly came off the bench in 2014, but we will see plenty of them on the pitch in Russia. Each of them has acquired 37 caps respectively with England, combining for 17 goals. Welbeck’s 15 goals lead the active English roster in scoring, with Kane trailing close behind at 12.
Similarly to Belgium, England’s UEFA qualifying group didn’t present the biggest challenge to arrive in Russia. England ran off 8 wins and 2 draws, accumulating 26 points with a 18 / 3 goal differential.
Spain and England led all qualifying teams with only three goals allowed in the 10-match process. England had 12 players responsible for the 18 goals in qualifying, with Kane leading the way with 5 tallies.
Another player who was left off the roster is goalkeeper Joe Hart, who had taken part in all three of England’s recent Major tournaments.
Jack Butland could possibly be starting for England, and that is one scary proposition. He is partly to blame for Stoke City being sent back to the Championship Division, after they were relegated from Premier League this year. His seven caps aren’t exactly all that much experience to fall on either. We will have to wait and see which keeper Manager Gareth Southgate decides on, but either way there will be concerns.
Defender Gary Cahill will have to rely on his 58 games of experience on the back line. He won’t be surrounded by a ton of experience, but we all know that English football relies heavily on a defensive-minded concept.
Panama Team Page
For the team roster and other highlights, check the Panamanian team page.
Panama is one of two teams making their debut at this year’s World Cup, as is the case with Iceland.
As only one of three CONCACAF teams in the dance, Panama is looking to build on some marginal success from other competitions. Los Canaleros recently finished as runners-up at the 2017 Copa Centroamericana, while also advancing to the 2017 Gold Cup quarterfinals.
As we review what Panama did to qualify out of CONCACAF, there really isn’t anything that stands out. In fact, when the tie-breaker between Panama and Honduras decided which of the two got direct entry to the World Cup, Panama advanced with a -1 ratio. Honduras had to endure another round of qualifying, in which they fell to Australia, because of their -6 ratio.
Forward Luis Tejada has amassed 105 caps, and his two goals in the first section of UEFA W.C qualifying led the team. Panama only scored 7 overall goals in that phase of qualifying, and allowed 5.
Tejada is one of six players on the Panama roster who have triple-digit caps, and at age 29.1, they are among the leaders of all 32 teams in average age per player.
Also up front, Blas Pérez has equaled Tejada’s output of 43 goals in his time with Panama, while accumulating 117 caps of his own.
Midfielder Gabriel Gómez is the most experienced of the bunch, having earned 143 caps, and also has appeared in 27 World Cup qualifying matches. The well-traveled veteran has played for 18 teams in 16 years, and has never played with one club for more than two years.
Defensemen Román Torres has added 110 caps with Panama, and he is seen as a leader on this squad. He leads the back line in offense with 10 goals to his credit, two of which came in the CONCACAF fifth round of qualifying that saw Panama through to Russia.
Captain Felipe Baloy has been with Panama since 2001 and he is another of the 100-capped players.
In all honesty, you can jump around the entire Panamanian roster and find experience at every position.
Now it is just a matter of turning some mild success into success on the World’s brightest stage.
Tunisia Team Page
For the team roster and other highlights, check the Tunisian team page.
Tunisia started CAF World Cup qualification in the second round against Mauritania. After two 2 – 1 wins in a two-legged affair, Tunisia was placed in group A with DR Congo, Libya and Guinea.
Tunisia proceeded to not lose a match in group play, becoming one of five African Nations at the 2018 World Cup.
As if the battle wasn’t going to be tricky enough for Tunisia, they have to go without their leading scorer. Forward Youssef Msakni suffered a knee injury in April, and will be unable to help The Eagles of Carthage in Russia. He led the team in scoring during qualifying, and his absence will not be easy to replace.
No other player scored more than a single goal in qualifying for Tunisia, leaving Manager Nabil Maâloul in a pinch. Strikers Saber Khalifa and Fakhreddine Ben Youssef have combined to earn 79 caps, scoring 12 goals between them. Ahmed Akaïchi has 9 goals on his ledger in only 30 caps with the first squad.
Team Captain Aymen Mathlouthi is an experienced goalkeeper with over 280 appearances at club level, carrying 69 caps with the Panamanian squad.
Tunisia’s midfield is a concern, because they are lacking experience and depth in the middle of the pitch. Hoping to provide any stability will be Vice-captain Wahbi Khazri, who currently plays in Ligue 1 with Rennes. He has accumulated 35 caps and 12 goals with Tunisia, Khazri’s lone goal in qualifying, resulted in a 1 – 0 win over Libya that propelled Tunisia to a 2 – 0 start in CAF group A.
Group G World Cup Predictions
If you have followed our group predictions at World in Sport, you will realize that we have all 3 CONCACAF teams exiting early from the tournament.
Panama is listed at +100,000 to win the World Cup, as they and Saudi Arabia both garner no respect from the odds makers. Ironically, Tunisia is not that far behind at +75,000, although neither are expected to put up much of a fight in group play either.
Panama’s experience is surely an asset, and Tunisia can hold their own defensively, for the most part.
This is clearly a situation of two teams clearly expected to advance out of group play, while two teams look for opportunities to provide upsets. At the same token, that didn’t work out so well for England when they were paired with Italy in 2014.
Expect a good bit of scoring to come out of group G. We have two teams with grand expectations, and two teams playing with ‘house money’ having more to gain than lose.
Unfortunately, Tunisia and Panama will struggle keeping pace with the two UEFA entrants, so we have to give them the nod.
Order of Finish:
England winning the group outright holds some value at +125, so consider that play from group G play.
There is just not enough in place to call for an outrageous upset from group G. Hopefully, England will not be involved with back-to-back World Cup debacles, and they go perform to the level that Premier League fans expect.