The 2018 World Cup is around the corner and Emabis takes a look at England's qualification prospects in Group G.
Group G features Belgium, England, Tunisia and Panama.
With players like Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Mousa Dembele and Michy Batshuayi, it’s easy to understand why so many punters look at Belgium as possible contenders for every tournament they qualify for. But with a quarter-final exit in Brazil the pinnacle of their World Cup success, Belgium are another team which has flattered to deceive in recent times.
Belgium qualified top of Group H with nine wins and one draw. But that achievement required little exertion given the group also featured Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia, Cyprus and Gibraltar. So can a relatively untested Belgium under Roberto Martinez improve on a poor track record in major tournaments? They will qualify from this group but I have my doubts after that. For me, Martinez has always been a better self-promoter than manager. I have major reservations about his tactical awareness - especially in preventing goals - and suspect he could be found out again in more challenging knock-out games.
We all know about England’s sole World Cup win. We’ve certainly heard enough about it. But given England’s sense of self-importance to world football, its scarcely believable that 1966 and 1990 were their only semi-final appearances at World Cup finals. They’ve exited at the quarter-final stage of six.
With eight wins and two draws, England qualified by topping Group F ahead of Slovakia, Scotland, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta. But England always qualify at ease. By contrast to prior years however, I like what Southgate is trying to do with this new crop of England players. He's trying to develop a young squad with a collective spirit and work ethic, and no egos, for the next two or three international tournaments. Led by truly world-class players like Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli, this England squad has a chance of genuinely competing for major tournaments. Although Russia may a tournament too early.
This is Tunisia’s first World Cup finals since Germany 2006; their fifth in total. In their previous four appearances, they have secured a draw in each tournament but won just once (1978) to exit at the group stages.
With a very limited squad that is heavily dependent on Youssef Msakni for goals, the height of Tunisia’s ambition is probably a second World Cup win against Panama. But regardless of the Panama result, it would take an extraordinary collapse by England or Belgium for the Carthage Eagles to qualify.
Panama qualified for their first World Cup finals by finishing second to Costa Rica and then third to Mexico and Costa Rica in their final group. In qualifying, Panama won only three of ten games but beat Costa Rica away from home and held Mexico and USA to draws at home.
Panama’s squad is one of the lowest quality squads in Russia. Aging and lacking in quality, Panama scored only nine goals in ten final round qualifying games. However, they also conceded just two goals in four qualifying games against Mexico and Costa Rica. So their preferred strategy is likely to involve battening down the hatches.
Group G will hold no surprises. England and Belgium will both qualify. Whoever wins their head-to-head will win the Group. But, should they draw, goal difference against Tunisia and Panama will decide the group winner.
Tunisia’s focus will be on a win against Panama. But, despite being the better side, I wouldn’t fully rule out an all-out defensive effort from Panama to extend Tunisia’s record of draws at the World Cup group stage.
Predicted Group Standings
Recommended Group Bet
Belgium and England to qualify, in any other, is 2/7. Despite Belgium being 5/6 to win Group G, 6/5 can be got for Belgium to win Group G ahead of England.
Recommended Group Match Bet
I'm surprised to find Tunisia odds-against to beat Panama in the final group game.