Bat­tle of the EPL stars

Sportstar - - GROUP G - A. VINOD

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.

BEL­GIUM

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.

Squad

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

12 ap­pear­ances

Fourth place in 1986

ENG­LAND

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.

Squad

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

14 ap­pear­ances

Cham­pion in 1966

TU­NISIA

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.

Squad

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

AFP

Game­chang­ers: Man­aged by Roberto Martinez, Bel­gium has a wealth of ta­lent in Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Haz­ard, Romelu Lukaku and Vin­cent Kom­pany.

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