Belgian National Team for 2018 World Cup. Photo Courtesy: AP/RSS
KATHMANDU, June 12: England and Belgium will most likely dominate the Group G of this week's 2018 FIFA World Cup, as the European teams will face each other only in the final round of the group.
England qualified for the finals after finishing first in the Group F of the UEFA qualification which saw it win eight and draw two games.
Young goalkeepers and defensive structure
England has selected three young goalkeepers in 24-year-old Jordan Pickford, 25-year-old Jack Butland, and 26-year-old Nick Pope.
England coach Gareth Southgate will have a hard time choosing the goalkeeper to start the game, but the most likely option will be Pickford. Butland is the second choice for England.
England's defensive line is not the main area of strength as Southgate went for more young defenders and chose only two players (Ashley Young and Gary Cahill) who are over the age of 30.
England plays a three-man defense with converted fullback Kyle Walker on the right side, and ball playing defenders John Stones and Harry Maguire. Stones will provide the creativity with his passing and ball playing skills which can convert possession into meaningful attacks from the back. The other options for the center back positions are Cahill and Phil Jones.
Tottenham's Kieran Trippier is the right wing back, while Danny Rose plays from the left. They will be backed up by left wing backs Ashley Young and Fabian Delph, and right wing back Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Lack of creativity in midfield
England decided to leave creative playmakers Adam Lallana and Jack Wilshere, and prioritized Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Alli and Loftus-Cheek are creative too, but they don't actually operate from the only middle of the park like Wilshere and Lallana would have done. England will most likely field Eric Dier as the defensive midfielder in a five-man midfield, while he will be supported by Alli and Loftus-Cheek or Lingard further forward.
Dier will be backed up by Jordan Henderson, while Loftus-Cheek usually plays as a left-sided midfielder.
Big attacking threats
The best part of England should be the attack as the five players called upon to play in Russia will be crucial in the finals. Captain Harry Kane will surely lead the attacking line with a second striker just behind him which will be either Marcus Rashford or Raheem Sterling.
Jamie Vardy is the other center forward option, while Danny Welbeck can play either as a winger or a second striker.
Belguim, who is enjoying its golden generation, is one of the best dark horses in the competition.
Belgium had an even better qualifying campaign as it qualified with nine wins out of 10 playing only one draw.
Goalkeepers and defense line
Thibaut Courtois is the leading candidate to start between the sticks, while the second choice keeper will be Liverpool's Simon Mignolet. They will be backed up by Koen Casteels.
Belgium might have the big names in the center back roles, but three out of the four center backs are often kept at the bench in their respective clubs.
Toby Alderweireld spent most of his time at the sidelines because of injury and has not played much often in Tottenham, while Thomas Vermaelen is the second choice center back at Barcelona. Also, Vincent Kompany spends most of his injured. But, now they are all fit, and Belgium might field Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Kompany. Belgium can also field Vermaelen ahead of Kompany or Alderweireld.
Thomas Meunier will start as the right wing back, while he will be supported by Dedryck Boyota.
Leaving experienced midfielder Radja Nainggolan out of the squad was heavily criticized , but despite his absence, Belgium can flare with the other midfielders and wide players it has picked.
Axel Wistel is the top candidate for the defensive midfield role, while he will be supported by creative playmaker Kevin de Bryune.
There are several options to pick for the defensive midfield role for Martinez with Youri Tielmans, Moussa Dembele, and Leander Dendoncker. Dembele and Tielmans are equally good as center midfielders too.
The other option Belgium has is Marouane Fellaini in the central midfield.
Talented attacking options
The other option in the left wing is Nacer Chadli, while in the right is Adnan Januzaj. Eden Hazard is one of the pivotal parts of the team and will play as an attacking midfielder in a 3-4-2-1 with de Bryune, assisting Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens. Mertens can also play behind Romelu Lukaku if Belgium goes for a 3-5-2. Lukaku is the main man to lead the attacking line, while he will be given assistance by Michy Batshuayi. Kylian Hazard is an attacking midfielder, but will only play limited amount in a tightly-congested lineup.
Tunisia qualified to the World Cup after finishing top of the Group A of the CAF qualification with four wins and two draws.
Goalkeepers and defense
Captain Aymen Mathlouthi is the first choice goalkeeper, while Farouk Ben Mustapha and Mouez Hassen will provide backup. Syam Ben Youssef is the main center back and will be supported by Yassine Meriah. They will be given competition by Yohan Benalouane and Dylan Bronn.
Rami Bedoui and Hamdi Nagguez are the right backs and on the left side are Ali Maaloul and Hamdi Nagguez. Nagguez can also play from the right, while the other option in the left is Oussama Haddadi.
Midfield and attack
Lack of quality surely bothers the Tunisian midfield, but the midfielders can play in various positions. In a 4-2-3-1 system, Mohamed Amine Ben Amor and Ferjani Sassi are the options in the defensive midfield role, while they will be supported by Ahmed Khalil or Ghilane Chaalali.
Sassi and Amor can also play as the central midfielders, while Saif-Eddine Khaoui is the other player who can run at the middle.
Wahbi Khazri can play as an attacking midfielder, a center forward or a second striker, while he will be supported by Bassem
Srarfi in the attacking midfield role.
The other player is Nail Sliti who is capable of playing at both the flanks.
Anice Badri adds to the renovation while attacking playing from the left wing. Up front is Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, who will be backed up by Saber Khalifa.
Panama is one of the two debutants in the finals this time. It qualified to the finals by securing the third place with three wins, four draws and three losses.
Goalkeepers and defense
Jaime Penedo will start in goal for Panama, while he will get competition from Jose Calderon and Alex Rodriguez. Fidel Escobar and Roman Torres are the leading candidate for the center back positions, while they will get support from Harold Cummings and Felipe Baloy.
Adolfo Machado will start from the right side, while he will get backup from Michael Amir Murillo. Likewise, Eric Davies and Luis Oralle will compete in left.
Midfield and attack
Gabriel Gomez is the defensive midfielder, while he will be given competition by Ricardo Avila. The center midfielders are Edgar Barcenas and Valentin Pimentel. Avila can be deployed as a center midfielder too. Armando Cooper and Anibal Godoy are the attacking midfielders, while Jose Luis Rodriguez is a left winger.
Gabriel Torres and Blas Perez are the two main attackers, while they will be given backup by Luis Tejada and Isamel Diaz. Abdiel Arroyo is the other option.