England get their eagerly-anticipated 2018 Russia World Cup campaign underway with a Group G clash against Tunisia on Monday night at the 45,000-capacity Volgograd Arena in Volgograd.
The Three Lions will be looking to make a rare strong start to a major tournament against the somewhat underrated nation, with Panama and Belgium setting the pace earlier on in the day.
Tunisia, competing in their first World Cup since Germany 2006 where they crashed out of the group stage with no wins for the third consecutive campaign following similar demises in 2002 and 1998.
This isn’t a side to undermine as they’ve been in strong form ahead of Monday’s curtain-raiser, drawing with 2016 European champions Portugal and stiff opposition Turkey in warm-up matches, as well as suffering a narrow 1-0 defeat to Spain earlier this month.
Although it’s an uphill task for Nabil Maaloul’s side, they’ll certainly be battling with all their might to snatch a win against either England or Belgium, considering their fate could already be decided by the time their third match against Panama comes around.
The biggest threat Tunisia carry is the mind-set that there’s quite literally nothing to lose and their roster of talented footballers are more than capable of causing a shock, albeit without key star Youssef Msakni who is ruled out this summer with a serious knee injury.
As far as England are concerned, there is significantly more weight on the players’ shoulders to deliver after a humiliating group stage exit in Brazil four years ago, as well as how the 2016 European Championships panned out in France.
The mood in camp is currently as spirited as it has been in a long time and promising head coach Gareth Southgate will have drilled into his 23-man squad members’ heads that opposition like this are not to be taken lightly – as Iceland were two years ago.
Considering Belgium face lowly Panama prior to kick-off there will most likely be added pressure on England to reply to the team they are expected to be battling for top spot with, and that could very easily lead to further international disaster.
Southgate has picked a youthful squad to take to Russia, and that could be exactly what is needed in the bid to actually go further than the round of 16 for the first time in 12 long years of pain.
England have looked good in a new 3-4-3 formation and impressed as they beat both Nigeria and Costa Rica in warm-up fixtures, but now is the time to prove they’ve got the bottle to finally put in a performance to be proud of on the big stage.
This meeting will be just the third between the two countries, and the first since 1998 when Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes helped The Three Lions to a 2-0 win – the first meeting was drawn 1-1 in June 1990.
Tunisia (4-3-3): Mathlouthi; Bronn, Syam Ben Youssef, Meriah, Ali Maaloul; Skhiri, Sassi, Khaoui; Badri, Khazri ©, Fakhreddine Ben Youssef.
England (3-4-3): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Henderson, Alli, Young; Sterling, Lingard, Kane ©.