England are looking to win their first World Cup game for eight years against a Tunisia who themselves have not won a World Cup game since 1978.
Both sides will feel that qualification is possible and this opening contest is imperative to both sides if they want to make it into the Round of 16.
This game really looks like a decider for the second spot in Group G. A victory for England would mean that a win against lowly Panama should be enough to seal their place in the knockout stages, whilst Tunisia could think exactly the same way.
In 2014, England were in the group of death with Italy, Uruguay and eventual winners Costa Rica. This time around there can be no excuses if they fail to reach the knockout stages.
Whilst Gareth Southgate should be given credit for creating and pressure and expectation-free environment for his squad, they will no doubt be under scrutiny if they cannot secure a victory in the opening game.
Last Time Out
England 2-0 Costa Rica [International Friendly]
Danny Welbeck and Marcus Rashford scored the goals to give England an impressive victory against fellow World Cup participants Costa Rica.
The performance was splendid and some of the football they played was exceptional, truly giving the fans hopes that they will not be making up the numbers like they were in 2014.
Rashford scored a screamer early doors to set the tone for England before Welbeck scored a diving header to seal the victory, with the assist coming from Dele Alli.
It is never wise to read into friendly results too much, but England looked very good in both their warm-up games and will begin their World Cup campaign with a hint of optimism and excitement.
Tunisia 0-1 Spain [International Friendly]
A 1-0 defeat against one of the tournament favourites is not a bad result for Tunisia and shows that they will be resolute and difficult to break down.
Iago Aspas scored the important goal just six minutes from time.
Spain dominated possession with 71% of the ball, whilst Tunisia failed to muster a corner and had just six shots in the game. They did, however, limit Spain to lateral passes and just two shots on target.
This game will most certainly have prepared Tunisia for the tests of England and Belgium in Russia.
A 3-5-2 looks like the most likely formation that England will deploy against Tunisia with Harry Kane leading the line, supported by Raheem Sterling.
After a Man of the Match performance against Costa Rica, Marcus Rashford gave Gareth Southgate a selection headache, but a recent injury means he’s likely to be confined to the bench.
Kyle Walker should continue as a make-shift centre back while Ashley Young – or Danny Rose – and Kieran Trippier provide width from the wing back positions.
Who starts as the single pivot was a point of contention ahead of their opener, with both Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier in the frame, with Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard providing the creativity in front.
Tunisia should line up with a 4-2-3-1 against England and they will be hoping that star man Wahbi Khazri is fit enough to play the full 90 minutes.
This starting XI is the one that came close to taking a 0-0 draw against Spain only with the introduction of Khazri upfront.
Key Battle: Harry Kane (England) vs Wahbi Khazri (Tunisia)
Harry Kane has the hopes of England on his shoulders. The striker has just recently signed a bumper new deal at Spurs and he knows that his form is imperative to England’s tournament chances.
If Kane is firing on all cylinders, England will possess arguably the best out-and-out striker at the tournament.
However, Kane was subpar in France two years ago, despite winning the Premier League Golden Boot, and there are fears that his performances will repeat themselves this time around.
He seemed unfit since returning from his injury against Chelsea in April, though did finish the season with 30 goals, as well as netting against Nigeria in the Three Lions’ first warm-up game.
An opening day goal, therefore, as well as having the captain’s armband, will be vital for his confidence and form throughout the competition.
It’s a tale of two strikers with Wahbi Khazri also shouldering the hopes of the Tunisian people at the World Cup.
Khazri, by contrast, currently plays for League One Sunderland, but spent last season on loan at French side Rennes. He was very impressive for them – netting nine times – and he represents Tunisia’s best chance for a goal or creative spark.
In a game where Tunisia are expected to have little of the ball, Khazri could represent their one opportunity for a killer pass or shot.
A different environment
Every four years England come into the World Cup with the expectations that this could be their year.
In 2002, they fell to Brazil in the quarter-finals. In 2006 it was Portugal who knocked England out in a penalty shoot-out. Four years later they fell to a controversial defeat against Germany in the Round of 16.
If this wasn’t bad enough, in 2014, they failed to even win a game. Can this England team finally deliver a first semi-final since Italia ’90?
Perhaps the best thing Southgate has done since taking over as England boss is reduce the minimum expectation.
Whilst many believe the Three Lions will comfortably get out of the group, there’s no pressure to reach a certain stage in the tournament, rather a collective sense of ‘que sera sera,’ whatever will be, will be.
The feeling is drastically different to years gone by. There are no egos, no pressure and a degree of cautious optimism. The players seem happy – rather than scared – to represent England and this could serve them well in Russia.
Underestimating your enemy
The expectation in this group is that England and Belgium will progress, and the winner of the group will be determined in the final group game when they meet.
But are we doing a disservice to Tunisia?
The African side were recently ranked 14th in the FIFA World Rankings and are still sitting at a very healthy 21st. They held a Spanish side expected to win the tournament for 84 minutes in a recent friendly and seem defensively robust.
England tend to struggle against teams that sit deep and pack their own defensive third, which is where the creative passing ranges of Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard will come to the fore.
Expecting them to be pushovers seems ignorant and Tunisia will most certainly give everyone in this group a run for their money.
Prediction: England 2-1 Tunisia
England should just about have enough to get by Tunisia. Their attacking quality and depth from the substitutes bench should see them squeeze past the Eagles of Carthage in what will be a tricky assignment.
Tunisia will no doubt be defensively robust and organised with a danger of counterattacks, but the quality that England have will neutralise that threat.
A close fought 2-1 victory looks most likely.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group G in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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