England haven’t had a decent tournament since 2006 and expectations are at an all-time low. With England crashing out without winning a game in the group stage of the last World Cup, anything would be an improvement.
There is some cause for optimism though, Gareth Southgate has the side playing like a team and fans should take encouragement from displays with his latest system, particularly in the first half of the Nigeria clash.
The group poses a good balance of challenging but winnable fixtures that could get the team off to a great start if they escape the group stage. The major pitfall for England will be in this fixture, Tunisia are the highest ranked African nation in the tournament and shouldn’t be underestimated.
Tunisia are an outside bet to get out of the group but if they are going to do that, it will likely be with a victory over England. Given the recent international record, they’ll fancy their chances of causing an upset. Southgate would probably settle for a point but England should be targeting victory, the last thing they want is to face Belgium needing three points in the final group game.
England comfortably got through qualifiers once again despite the whole debacle with Sam Allardyce at the start of the qualifying process. Only Germany, Spain and Belgium qualified with a better record than England as the Three Lions went unbeaten throughout.
An unspectacular but efficient bunch of warm-up fixtures left England undefeated since they crashed out to Iceland in the European Championships. England rarely blow teams away but they’ve also only dropped points three times since 2016, which should at least be encouraging for the group stage.
Tunisia also went unbeaten throughout qualifiers and have backed that up with some impressive friendly results. In particular, beating Costa Rica and drawing with European champions Portugal. A narrow 1-0 defeat to Spain remains the African side’s only defeat since they were eliminated from the African Cup of Nations by Burkina Faso.
The last time these two sides met was at the France World Cup in 1998 - it remains the only competitive fixture between them. Tunisia and England were drawn as the opening fixture in their group again that year and the Three Lions got off to a comfortable start.
A goal from Alan Shearer put England ahead just before half-time with Paul Scholes wrapping up the points in the 89th minute. An unexpected defeat at the hands of Romania followed that put pressure on England but they emerged in second place from that group with a comfortable victory against Colombia.
World Cup Highlight
You won’t need reminding that England once lifted the famous trophy on home soil, thanks to a controversial goal and some late drama, prompting Kenneth Wolstenholme to spew the famous phrase ‘they think it’s all over...it is now’.
Things were never quite as spectacular for England since but a fantastic World Cup moment for Alf Ramsey’s side nonetheless.
Tunisia have only qualified for the World Cup on four occasions prior, never going beyond the group stage. The highlight for them came in a 3-1 group stage victory against Mexico in 1978 which remains their only victory at a World Cup to date. They also earned a draw with West Germany at the same tournament only narrowly missing out on the knockout stage.
England (3-1-4-2): Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Henderson, Trippier, Lingard, Alli, Rose, Sterling, Kane
Tunisia (4-5-1): Mathlouthi, Haddadi, Ben Youssef, Benalouane, Maaloul, Khalifa, Khazri, Sassi, Ben Amor, Badri, Sliti
England often make things difficult for themselves at tournaments and Tunisia have proven they can grind out a result against some of Europe’s best. The African side are liable to line up looking for a draw and hope to counter which should suit the England defence just fine.
Offensively though England have struggled to break down resolute defences in their four most recent fixtures. With the exception of Italy though, they did leave with the victory in each of those matches so Southgate’s side at least knows how to pick the lock enough to get exactly what they need.
A goal will change the game plan for Tunisia and another one for England should wrap up the result and leave room for some characteristic England nerves.
Prediction: England 2-1 Tunisia