- The two European sides are overwhelming favorites in a top heavy group, where the Premier League will have plenty of say as to which winds up finishing in first.
It would not be far fetched to suggest that England’s Premier League has a lot to do with the order of finish in Group G at the 2018 World Cup.
First, there’s Belgium’s golden generation, featuring the likes of Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne and Vincent Kompany, Chelsea's Eden Hazard and Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku. Roberto Martinez, who used to manage in the Premier League, coaches the Red Devils and has as his assistant Arsenal legend Thierry Henry.
Then there’s Gareth Southgate’s England, whose entire squad–featuring the likes of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling–plays in the Premiership. There’s no shocking statement here: this is a two-horse race and any other result would be a huge surprise.
Tunisia has the talent to cause problems, and was even 14th as recent as the May FIFA world ranking, but due to the injury of creative workhorse Youssef Msakni, which keeps him out of the World Cup, it makes the task all that much more difficult.
As for Panama? Los Canaleros are making history by appearing in their first World Cup, but the outlook isn't great. Panama is the oldest team in the tournament, and when you face pacey forwards such as England’s Marcus Rashford or Belgium’s Michy Batshuayi, it typically doesn't end well.
Monday, June 18 (11 a.m. ET): Belgium vs. Panama
Monday, June 18 (2 p.m. ET): England vs. Tunisia
Saturday, June 23 (8 a.m. ET): Belgium vs. Tunisia
Sunday, June 24 (8 a.m. ET): England vs. Panama
Thursday, June 28 (2 p.m. ET): England vs. Belgium
Thursday, June 28 (2 p.m. ET: Tunisia vs. Panama
Most Pivotal Match
England vs. Belgium. Not only is this the most important match in Group G, this is also a contender for one of the most entertaining matches in the group stage, period. The fact that it’s also the final fixture of the round makes it that much more dramatic, given a winner would likely top the group. These are two squads who know each other extremely well, so it might just come down to who has the tactical upper hand.
Potential sleeper team
This is honestly a forced decision as the chances of anyone outside of Belgium and England to get out of this group are highly unlikely, but Tunisia has the tools to at the very least frustrate its European opponents. If, and it’s a big if, the African nation can get a point against England in the opening match of the tournament, then that can motivate the nation for bigger things to come.
Players to Watch
Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium): This squad boasts an embarrassment of riches so you really can’t go wrong whichever way you go, so let’s stick with the obvious choice. If the Red Devils are an orchestra and the World Cup is the Metropolitan Opera House, then the Man City midfielder is the conductor to bring it all together.
Raheem Sterling (England): With nearly 40 caps to his name and having been a member of the 2014 World Cup squad in Brazil, it’s hard to believe that Sterling is still only 23. Thanks to Pep Guardiola's guidance, the young winger has blossomed into one of the most dangerous players in Europe and is a major factor when England goes forward.
Ellyes Skhiri (Tunisia): Born in France, it actually took Skhiri a while to commit to Tunisia, having only confirmed in February. It's a good thing, too, as the 23-year-old Montpellier defensive midfielder can help Tunisia stem the tide against its more talented opponents.
Gabriel Torres (Panama): An experienced striker with threatening pace, Torres is the end product of Panama’s counterattack. The thinking here is that he will lead the line, aiming to capitalize on any opportunity won by the midfield.
Predictions to go through
Don't expect any dramatic turns here. Belgium and England will go through. The bigger question is who wins the group and secures, potentially, a clearer path in the knockout stage. But in terms of getting out of Group G, there's only one real outcome due to the overwhelming talent from both sides.