One of the strongest teams on paper, Belgium has got all the tools to go deep in the competition. What about Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens and Axel Witsel?
I intentionally left out Romelu Lukaku. Just to show that there are world class players available even without the dangerous striker.
Under the guidance of Roberto Martinez, Belgium plays possession football. They have the most creative midfield in the world. So they will rarely leave the field without scoring a goal.
The team needs to close introduction – but the expectations are undoubtedly high on this Belgian side. Their weakness is to themselves and they need to be ready to unlock deep sitting defenses with success. If they do master that, the trophy can end up in the hands of Belgium.
To watch out for: There are many stars in the team. Leadership will be a key factor to handle all these strong characters who are obvious superstars in their clubs.
The challenge is that they have to learn to play with nobody being the lone star player. Remember the saying “too many cooks”? Belgium is their own enemy when it comes to how they handle their potential.
Group G: England, Belgium, Panama & Tunisia.
We used to hear about England as one of the most hyped teams in every major tournament but most of the time it ends up in disappointment.
The loss against Iceland in the Euros is still fresh on the eye. England is looking for some sort of redemption of their status.
The Englishmen progressed in the qualifiers in their group consisting of Slovakia, Slovenia, and Scotland. It was a pleasant group for England who wasn’t exposed or tested enough.
In recent years, England has tried to become more modern and implemented a possession-based approach. But they lack the real creativity in the final third to unlock defenses in a variety of ways.
It is a younger era of England we have seen over the last major tournaments.
The English always expect a lot and it leads to a lot of pressure. In essence, this leads to cramp-looking performances when it matters the most.
Group G is a pleasant one for England, but Panama and Tunisia are no push-overs. If the respect isn’t there, England might have a short World Cup again.
To watch out for: The young talents in the squad. Many players belong to clubs who have taken major steps in the development. Such as Tottenham with Dele Ali, Eric Dier, Kieran Trippier but also Manchester United “newborn” Ashley Young.
Sure, there are some familiar names, both new and old. But the majority of the players in the English squad have a positive form and development curve. It makes you wonder how far it can go if they peak at the right time.
For the first time since 2006, Tunisia participates in the World Cup again. It is the highest ranked team in Africa, which shows that the performances have been consistent for a long period of time.
It is a team without a shining star but a strong unit to their disposal. Tunisia went undefeated through the qualifiers which do not necessarily say a lot but still shows that Tunisia is used to winning matches.
Midfielder Wahbi Khazri from Rennes is the most known name in the squad along with winger Youssef Mskani who scored 3 goals in the qualifiers, which was enough to be the top scorer for Tunisia.
Coach Nabil Maaloul will have to make sure his side is up to standard defensively, as they will be tested against Belgium and England primarily.
To watch out for: The unpredictable and rather anonymous Tunisian side is easy to take lightly, but they are difficult to beat over 90 minutes.
In such circumstances where every game matters, the veterans play a significant role. That being said, Wahbi Khazri is the man who should carry this Tunisian side.
According to transfer values, Panama arrives at World Cup with the cheapest squad out of all teams, which is not very surprising as they make their first-ever appearance.
Coach Hernan Gomez has been in charge since 2014, but probably not even he believed they would be among the participants in World Cup.
However, Panama has an unknown team but have all the chances of becoming the people’s favorites, similar to what Costa Rica did during their success.
Center back Felipe Baloy is 36 years old and plays his club football in Guatemala, for Municipal, which is the same club as national fellow striker Blas Perez (36 years old) too.
It is a tight-knit group of players, and that should not be underestimated. The chances to progress look slim. Not necessarily because Panama is weak, but more due to the fact that England and Belgium are two of the teams in the group.
To watch out for: Midfielder Ricardo Avila who plays for KAA Gent in Belgium looks like an interesting prospect on his midfield position.
To represent his country at this scene at 20 years of age is huge, and a great opportunity for him to show himself.