England vs Tunisia: 5 things to look forward to

England's opening match at the World Cup is the kind they usually disappoint in. Will this time be different?


Reuters/LEE SMITH

On Monday at 19:00 (21:00 local time), England return to the World Cup, playing Tunisia at the Volgograd Arena. 

Reports have suggested that Gareth Southgate will call upon Harry Maguire in a back three alongside Manchester City’s John Stones and Kyle Walker. Ashley Young, the oldest player in the squad, is set to play as wing-back due to the lack of consistent game time from Danny Rose, while Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier will play on the other side. 

Jordan Henderson, rather than Eric Dier, will play at the base of midfield with both Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard featuring behind Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane. 

There are no injury concerns within England’s squad, bar Marcus Rashford who suffered a knock in training. But the 20-year-old, who was England’s man of the match in their final pre-tournament friendly against Costa Rica, has returned to training and should be fit enough to feature. 

Tunisia have more injury concerns. Their most creative player, Youssef Msakni is missing the tournament through injury, while the likes of Ali Maaloul, Ghailene Chaalali, Rami Bedoui and Ben Amor have suffered setbacks in the build-up to this test.

Here are five things to look forward to:

  1. 1 Will this time be different for England?


    Reuters/LEE SMITH

    Much has been made of Gareth Southgate's approach in qualifiers, with an argument that this is the first time an identity has been forged in a generation, lead by a coach who is genuinely progressive. 

    But many people said the same about Roy Hodgson, as he transitioned the squad away from the underachieving mainstays of the Sven-Göran Eriksson and Fabio Capello eras, and integrating exciting younger talents such as Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli, and Harry Kane. 

    With Rooney retiring that transition is complete. The Tunisia match will likely see nine of England's starting 11 make their World Cup debut, with only Ashley Young and Raheem Sterling having played in one before. Will the pressure of a World Cup swallow this generation up too?

    Tunisia will look to sit deep and frustrate England, happy to take a point and avoid the devastating blow a defeat would signify. Recent England teams have struggled against such tactics - Iceland at the last Euros was a new unthinkable nadir, but Algeria in 2010 and Costa Rica in 2014, both 0-0 draws, were unspeakably drab affairs.

    We won't really find out what England are made of until Belgium and any potential knockout games. But this, as a test akin to those England teams that have so often failed in recent tournaments, will an indication as to whether they have finally turned a new leaf. 

  2. 2 Wahbi Khazri reinvented as a striker


    Reuters/ALBERT GEA

    An English audience will remember Khazri as an occasionally brilliant midfielder who served as one of the sparks of Sunderland's great escape under Sam Allardyce in the 2015-2016 season after he arrived from Bordeaux in the January of that campaign. His deft set pieces in particular were an asset. 

    His star would only shine briefly in English football after the arrival of David Moyes appeared to sap the life out of him and everybody else. He was soon ousted from the team, despite being one of Sunderland's star performers as they defied the odds to stay up in the previous campaign.

    Not in their plans for The Championship, he was sent to Rennes and has reinvented himself as a different type of player, moving from the wings to a centre-forward role. 

    He scored nine goals in 24 appearances as Rennes finished an unlikely fifth - and Tunisia boss Nabil Maâloul has reproduced that approach, playing Khazri as a striker in the preparation for the World Cup.

    Scoring winning goals against Iran and Costa Rica, he's stepping up. England will see a different player to the one they remember. 

  3. 3 The new Volgograd Arena and this World Cup's legacy


    FIFA have been criticised in the past for the damaging, or non-existent, legacies that World Cups have left in the past. Half of Brazil's 2014 stadiums have faced financial difficulty and have largely been left empty - a waste of scarce public money.

    It's a familiar story after South Africa spent billions to host the World Cup, a resounding success at the time, but have since struggled to fill their stadiums and continue to drain the local councils with ongoing maintenance costs.

    The location, built on the site of the old Central stadium, is a historic place for Russian football and saw Spartak Moscow record a famous victory over Manchester United.

    Hopefully Russia will learn from such mistakes. The Volgograd Arena looks an aesthetically pleasing and smartly built stadium, and with a capacity of 43,000 isn't overly ambitious. This, the first game played there, will give us a first look of what it can offer - hopefully for Volgograd and FC Rotor for years to come. 

  4. 4 Can Harry Kane be a big tournament player for England?


    Reuters/JOHN SIBLEY

    You have to go back to 2004 for a genuinely excellent, exciting individual performance in a tournament for England: a teenage Wayne Rooney at the Euros in Portugal. 

    Lots of quality players have emerged since then, and some have done themselves proud in an England shirt, but none have truly stood out. Harry Kane failed to live up to his promise at Euro 2016, memorably stuck taking corners as his teammates flailed and fettered around him. 

    Now, after four excellent seasons, with over 100 Premier League goals, and a team set-up to get the best of him, there's genuine potential. Tunisia shouldn't be taken lightly, but they present an opportunity for him to hit the ground running and get his first tournament goals.

  5. 5 Jordan Pickford eased in


    Reuters/LEE SMITH

    It's unlikely that Jordan Pickford will be faced into action very often, as Tunisia will look to sit deep and counter. 

    Relatively inexperienced at international level and the World Cup representing a new level of pressure, Tunisia, and Panama present an opportunity for Pickford to settle and build confidence ahead of facing Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and co. 

    With Sterling, Lingard and Alli all mobile and lively options, Pickford's exceptional long range distribution will offer England another dimension in attack, although it's unlikely they will have much space to run into - but following any opposition corners or set pieces, he'll be quick to exploit such opportunities.

    Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group D in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.

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