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27 Jun 2018

World Cup 2018: Panama vs Tunisia – Lineups, Preview & Prediction

World Cup 2018: Panama vs Tunisia – Lineups, Preview &
Prediction

Both sides are yet to earn a point in Group G, so Thursday's meeting in Saransk will be little more than a battle for third place.

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1900 BST, Thursday 28 June, Mordovia Arena (Saransk), ITV4

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Last Time Out

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Panama Lineup

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Tunisia Lineup

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Key Battle: Wahbi Khazri (Tunisia) vs Roman Torres (Panama)

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Talking Points

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Prediction: Panama 1-2 Tunisia

1900 BST, Thursday 28 June, Mordovia Arena (Saransk), ITV4

Both Panama and Tunisia will still be licking their wounds ahead of their meeting in Saransk on Thursday night. Neither side have picked up a point as of yet in Group G, and both were the recipients of heavy defeats in their last outings.

For Tunisia, there were promising signs. They scored twice against Belgium and did not wilfully succumb to an onslaught as they might have when 4-1 down with most of the second half to play.

Panama could not say the same. They were demolished by England and looked out of their depth. Their fans, though, were delighted when Felipe Baloy scored a late consolation goal in the 6-1 loss.

This is Panama's first World Cup; there were no expectations and scoring a solitary goal was enough to send many home happy.

It is difficult to imagine the celebrations that would break out should Panama win a game. Their best chance of doing so is on Thursday against Tunisia, although they will again be the underdogs.

Last Time Out

England 6-1 Panama

Panama were 5-0 down at halftime against England, so they may, by the end, have been relieved to have avoided a record-breaking defeat.

The Central Americans did not cover themselves in glory during the first half. Their tactic appeared to be to frustrate England with a series of niggling fouls, but they conceded two penalties and capitulated having fallen behind early on.

"We were feeling rather frightened at half-time because of the huge difference between us and England, and also Belgium," admitted coach Dario Gomez.

REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Panama's defensive organisation from open play was not particularly bad, just as against Belgium, but they were unable to deal with England's innovative set piece routines.

They were unfortunate to concede in the second half - a shot that deflected off Harry Kane and went in - after a significantly improved performance.

And all seemed forgotten when Baloy converted from a free kick. There was jubilation in the stands. Panama's fans celebrated as if they had won the World Cup. Just being there, to them, was almost as good.

Belgium 5-2 Tunisia

Tunisia would have approached their game against Belgium with some confidence after coming within minutes of holding England to a draw in their opener. They had defended resolutely in that game, but Belgium's attack proved a step too far.

It did not begin ideally: Eden Hazard was fouled in the box and converted the resultant penalty and by half time Tunisia were 4-1 down. They were reeling and Belgium looked capable of inflicting more damage on a vulnerable backline.

REUTERS/Albert Gea

But, as with Panama against England, they regrouped - and likely benefitted from their opposition's lack of impetus - to finish the game more respectably.

Tunisia will be more disappointed than Panama. They will have been hopeful, prior to the tournament, of challenging the two favourites in this group, but the gap in quality, in the end, told.

"Ever since we were drawn into this group we knew Belgium were going to be a tough opponent," said coach Nabil Maaloul. "We would like to apologise to the Tunisian fans who were numerous in the stadium."

Panama Lineup

Michael Murillo and Armando Cooper are both suspended for Panama after picking up two yellow cards, and they will likely be replaced by Felipe Baloy and Ricardo Avila respectively, both of whom linked up to score the goal against England on Sunday.

Other than that, Gomez is likely to stick with the team that fell to defeat against England.

Tunisia Lineup

Tunisia will be without Syam Ben Youssef and Dylan Bronn, who scored against Belgium.

Both were forced off in the first half of that game, so Hamdi Nagguez and Yohan Benalouane are expected to slot in at right back and centre back respectively. Naim Sliti could also come in on the left of Tunisia's front three.

Key Battle: Wahbi Khazri (Tunisia) vs Roman Torres (Panama)

Wahbi Khazri, though he can be erratic and inconsistent, is Tunisia's key man. He is the focal point of their attacks, the man they look towards to produce a moment of quality.

Khazri scored and provided an assist against Belgium, and Tunisia will need him to be in form if they are to leave Russia with a victory.

REUTERS/Albert Gea

The man looking to subdue Khazri will be Panama's talismanic centre back Roman Torres.

He was a hero in qualification, defending admirably throughout Panama's run to the finals and scoring the crucial goal against Costa Rica to secure progression.

REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Torres has not been as imposing as he would have liked thus far in Russia, but he will be looking to assert himself on Tunisia's forwards on Thursday night.

Talking Points

Tunisia searching for elusive World Cup win

It is now 40 years since Tunisia won a game at the World Cup finals: a 3-1 win over Mexico in Argentina. That was their debut World Cup appearance, and it has been downhill since then.

In 1978, Tunisia were record setters. They became the first African team to win at the World Cup and, as a result, an extra space was granted to the continent for Spain 1982.

REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Now, though, they are facing the possibility of 14 World Cup matches without a win. If they cannot beat Panama, they will begin to wonder if they will ever be victorious again on the biggest stage.

Chance for Baloy to end on a high

Felipe Baloy, Panama's 37-year-old defender, scored against England and made thousands of people happy, but he does not want to stop there.

He is set to retire immediately after the World Cup, and there would be no better way to end than with a historic win. 

REUTERS/Murad Sezer

"We've studied Tunisia, who are a difficult rival, but still it is an opportunity to achieve a historic win," Baloy said.

"The experience in Russia has been top-notch, we hope that Panama can keep growing. As a group we've had a good coexistence in which we've spent time with the youngest players, who will stay on."

Prediction: Panama 1-2 Tunisia

Panama will, undoubtably, play with heart and determination again, but they might not have enough to get the better of a Tunisia side who have proven themselves capable of threatening some of Europe's best when going forward.

Both sides have been significantly below the level required to compete with England and Belgium. Tunisia, though, should end their World Cup drought with a win here.

Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 13 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.