Battle of the EPL stars
Of course, all 64 matches in Russia are not likely to be of the same quality. But, as one of the most balanced groups in the first stage, Group G simply stands out as the first among equals. The engagements between Belgium, England, Tunisia and newcomer Panama are certain to maintain a typically high standard befitting the occasion, and they should not be short of all the thrills and frills, though the key match should be the one between the two European sides.
This will be the 13th finals appearance for Belgium, currently ranked third in the world. Yet what still stands fresh in memory is the brilliance with which Jan Ceulemans and Co. made it to the semifinals at Mexico 1986, outliving a superb hattrick by Russian
Igor Belanov in the last eight en route to a hairraising 43 win.
The current set of players, hailed as the golden generation of the country, offers Belgium the chance to go one better, having made the grade with a string of clinical displays and scoring as many as 43 goals on the way to topping it group in the qualifiers. Managed by Roberto Martinez, the team has a wealth of talent in Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Vincent Kompany, each capable of turning out to be a worthy gamechanger.
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois, Koen
Casteels, Simon Mignolet.
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Vermaelen, Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Meunier, Dedryck Boyata.
Midfielders: Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne, Marouane Fellaini, Mousa Dembélé, Youri Tielemans, Yannick Carrasco, Leander Dendoncker, Nacer Chadli.
Forwards: Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Thorgan Hazard, Michy Batshuayi, Adnan Januazaj.
World Cup record
Fourth place in 1986
The originator of the game seems to have buried the disappointment of its first round exit in the 2014 World Cup in footballmad Brazil. True, the draw has been far kinder than last time and the English should be looking forward to gallop into the second stage of the tournament without much ado. Compared to the 2014 side, England has shown marked improvement in every area, with manager Gareth Southgate proving to be a tough, tactical master. However, it could all boil down to the match against Belgium as the English, making their 16th appearance in the tournament, are often sluggish at the start.
Goalkeepers: Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope.
Defenders: Trent Alexanderarnold, Gary Cahill, Fabian Delph, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Danny Rose, John Stones, Kieran Trippier, Kyle Walker, Ashley Young.
Midfielders: Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Jordan Henderson, Jesse Lingard, Ruben Loftuscheek.
Forwards: Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jamie Vardy, Danny Welbeck.
World Cup record
Champion in 1966
The African nation booked its return to the World Cup for the first time since 2006 by topping a rather straightforward Group B in the CAF qualifiers, and it is seen as a side with a sound defence playing in its favoured 4231 formation. This will be the fifth appearance for the Tunisians on the game’s largest stage and they should be looking forward to a much more pleasant outing than in previous occasions. Leftback Ali Maaloul is the most important figure in the Tunisian lineup, charged with the responsibility of ensuring there is no letup in the defence. The team also depends a lot on its attacking midfielders Wahbi Khazri and Naim Sliti for the creativity required upfront.
Goalkeepers: Farouk Ben Mustapha, Moez Hassen, Aymen Mathlouthi.
Defenders: Rami Bedoui, Yohan Benalouane, Syam Ben Youssef, Dylan Bronn, Oussama Haddadi, Ali Maaloul, Yassine Meriah, Hamdi Nagguez.
Midfielders: Anice Badri, Mohamed Amine Ben Amor, Ghaylene Chaalali, Ahmed Khalil, Saifeddine Khaoui, Ferjani
Gamechangers: Managed by Roberto Martinez, Belgium has a wealth of talent in Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Vincent Kompany.