England draw Belgium, Tunisia and Panama in 2018 World Cup group
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
Well, that could have been worse. Before England found out who they were going to face in next year's World Cup in Russia, there were rehearsals conducted for the glamorous ceremony. The mock draw matched up the Three Lions with Brazil, who knocked them out in 2002. At one stage there was a 50 per cent chance of getting the much-fancied South Americans or Germany. The final rehearsal threw up another South American opponent, this time Argentina, who infamously knocked out England in the 1986 World Cup.
Thankfully, this was not meant to be when the man responsible - or indeed, the hand responsible - for England's elimination all those years ago drew the Three Lions in a dream World Cup group. Gareth Southgate's side will face Belgium, Tunisia and the World Cup debutants Panama in Group G.
"Despite low expectations after dismal showings in recent major tournaments," the Guardian reports, "England have previously suffered only one defeat to any of those teams in a major tournament."
However, complacency could be the biggest threat to England's World Cup campaign. It ultimately led to their downfall "in humiliating fashion" against Iceland in Euro 2016, ESPN argues. The national side should reach their first quarter finals since 2006 after the favourable draw. "England simply need to be a quarter final team again," ESPN adds, "and in Russia, they really should be."
England will play their first group game against Tunisia on June 18, 2018 in Volgograd. The tournament will mark the Eagles of Carthage's return to the finals after 12 years away. They have never progressed from the group stage in their previous four World Cup appearances, according to Sky Sports.
The Three Lions will then travel to Nizhny Novgorod, playing World Cup first-timers Panama on June 24. The rank outsiders qualified for the finals after a controversial 'ghost goal' against Costa Rica, with the ball appearing not to cross the line in their 2-1 win - and ensuring the United States' elimination in the process.
In their final Group G game, England will face a tougher test against a Belgium side that includes Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea's Eden Hazard and Napoli's Dries Mertens in attack. Their back line features Tottenham duo Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, as well as Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois in goal. They will play Roberto Martinez's side on June 28 at the Kaliningrad Stadium.
While it may look like an easy group on paper, anything can happen in the World Cup. The Three Lions have experienced 51 years of hurt, and counting. It could very easily be 52 years in Russia.