FIFA rank: 3
It brings me great joy to write this preview, as my personal rooting for the tournament will done for Belgium. This is the best team they’ve ever put on a World Cup pitch, and the buzz is palpable. Between all-world goaltending, experience all over the pitch, and pace to spare, this team has a legitimate shot at not only winning their group, but the tournament as a whole. (I’m really just hoping my new Hazard Jersey can be worn for more than a few match days.)
Player to watch: Kevin De Bruyne was one of the best players on a historically great Manchester City team this year. His playmaking ability on the offensive end, coupled with his defensive ability make him difficult to deal with for any opponent. If he can work his magic in the midfield, Belgium can soar as a team.
FIFA rank: 12
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: England is primed for a World Cup disappointment. This is one of the tougher groups for a pot 2 team, as the top is exceptional, and the bottom has high ceilings. This is also a much younger English team than we’ve seen in the past, with the likes of Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney being replaced with Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane. They’re unseasoned at the attack, but the raw talent is certainly present, as well as at their other positions.
Player to watch: [insert goalkeeper here]. Leaving out Joe Hart has left England in a precarious position. Each of the three they kept, Pickford, Butland, and Pope, have had good seasons for their clubs, but they have a combined 12 international caps. It’s not like any inexperienced goalie has choked in a big game recently, right? *cough*Loras Karius*cough*
FIFA rank: 21
Tunisia comes into this World Cup with some of their greatest expectations to date. They’re benefitting from a generation of soccer players that were sent to play professionally in France, and have now come home more developed than ever.
Player to watch: Wahbi Khaziri is the best player on this team and for good reason. Playing for Rennes, he has shown himself to be a star on any stage, even against some of the world’s best competition. He’ll be the commander in the midfield and his ability to lead will determine the success of Tunisia.
FIFA rank: 55
Panama have reached the World Cup for the first time in their history. Luckily for them, some lowly team called the United States couldn’t take care of business against the soccer powerhouse Trinidad and Tobago, and their ticket was punched. They don’t have many top-flight players, as most of their squad plays in the MLS, but they do have some experience in many areas of the field.
Player to watch: They actually have a goalie in Jaime Penedo who is quite accomplished for his club team. He also leads the club in international caps with 131. If he can be his usual brick wall self, they can hang in with the big boys.
Belgium vs Panama: Monday, June 18th, 11am
Score: Belgium 3-0 Panama
England vs Tunisia: Monday, June 18th, 2pm
Score: England 2-2 Tunisia.
Belgium vs Tunisia: Saturday, June 23rd, 8am
Score: Belgium 2-1 Tunisia.
England vs Panama: Sunday, June 24th, 8am
Score: England 3-1 Panama.
England vs Belgium: Thursday, June 28th, 2pm
Score: Belgium 3-2 England.
Tunisia vs Panama: Thursday, June 28th, 2pm
Score: Tunisia 1-1 Panama.
- Belgium, 9 pts, +5
- England, 4 pts, +1
- Tunisia, 3 pts, -1
- Panama, 1 pts, -5