England secured their first win in the opening game of a major tournament since 2006 with some late drama against Tunisia. The Three Lions wasted a hatful of chances and left things late but Harry Kane’s header wrapped things up in the 92nd minute.
England fans can breathe a sigh of relief, Gareth Southgate’s side are comfortable favourites in this fixture. It means they could advance to the knockout stage with a game to spare for a nice change of pace from their usual panicky selves.
Panama, meanwhile, were one of the surprise inclusions from qualifiers, pipping the United States by a single point and Honduras on goal difference. They have become competitive on their own continent recently, reaching six major tournament semi finals in the last seven years.
They are yet to make their mark on the world stage though and they struggled against Belgium in their opener, eventually succumbing to a 3-0 defeat.
England have been impressive in qualifiers before and cruised to another World Cup unbeaten. They have often struggled to convert that form to the tournament itself though and bad starts have led to bad tournaments at the last two World Cups.
England kicked off this campaign in spectacular style, playing with a great intensity and purpose. They pulled the Tunisian defence apart in the opening stages and the only criticism would be that they perhaps should have scored more.
England could have put the game to bed inside the first 20 minutes with the positions they found, with Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard missing big chances in particular. When they conceded the soft penalty it looked as though it would be an all too familiar story for the Three Lions.
There was to be a twist though as in unfamiliar fashion England kept going until the very end and got their reward with a late winner. If anything overcoming the circumstances are even more convincing for England than the win itself, they’ll face tougher tests ahead but it does look like this team has a good tournament in them.
Panama, meanwhile, lost three and won three of their ten qualifying games, finishing behind Mexico and Costa Rica. They were still delighted to qualify for their ever World Cup but it didn’t get off to a great start for the Central American side.
They frustrated Belgium in the first half, holding them to a stalemate and looked likely to pick up one of the shocks of the first round. The legs began to tell in the second half though, Panama couldn’t maintain the pace of their counterparts and were picked apart, eventually conceding three times for the second largest defeat of the round.
England’s Danny Rose was one of the key absentees from their first fixture, with Ashley Young deputising on that side. Rose has been struggling with injuries all season and made just ten league appearances for Tottenham this season, but could be included for the sake of rotation.
Dele Alli also picked up a knock which he was carrying for the majority of the opening game. It’s not believed to be too serious but he isn't expected to start on Sunday.
Alberto Quintero broke his foot in Panama’s final warm-up game against Norway, resulting in him missing the tournament. They also had a scare with Jose Luis Rodriguez who aggravated an injury he sustained earlier in the season just days before they kicked off against Belgium.
Rodriguez’s knock proved to be not as bad as they first thought and the wide man was involved against Belgium. They navigated their first group game without any further injuries and should field a similar team against England.
England (3-1-4-2): Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Henderson, Trippier, Lingard, Loftus-Cheek, Young, Rashford, Kane.
Panama (4-1-4-1): Penedo, Murillo, Torres, Escobar, Davis, Gomez, Barcenas, Cooper, Godoy, Rodriguez, Perez.
Panama pose a very different threat to the one that Tunisia offered, they were very robust in the opening game with Belgium. Some have criticised their physical approach to the match but the Central American side play to their strengths and Belgium left knowing they’d been in a battle.
Southgate needs to get the balance right, England could still do with another three points to ensure advancement but should be cautious not to over-commit in a likely dead rubber match.
There are bigger challenges for the Three Lions, not least of all Belgium, who wait in the next match.
Panama didn’t offer too much attacking threat against Belgium but will be in need of a result this time. England’s defence actually looked pretty shaky when Tunisia attacked, gifting them chances, including the penalty, soft though it was.
Buoyed by a huge mark of improvement in the opening victory, Southgate just needs to calm the side down and send them out to play. England should be able to press their ascendancy if the Belgium game is anything to go by. The Three Lions just need to be patient and make the most of their chances.
Prediction: England 2-0 Panama