England go into Sunday’s World Cup game with Panama knowing that only a perfect three wins from three will be enough to see them top Group G.
Belgium hit Tunisia for five on Saturday afternoon, ensuring England would need to score a hatful of goals themselves to give them a chance of overhauling the Red Devils with a win and a draw in their final two games.
Of course, first thing’s first for Gareth Southgate and his team is to get the result from Panama that will secure their passage in the last 16 with a game to spare.
Should they do that, Thursday’s ‘decider’ with Belgium could become a phoney war as both countries weigh up whether it’s better to finish top or second in the group. Much will depend on how Group H finishes with second in that group playing the Group G winners and the Group H winners taking on the runners-up from G.
The gauntlet has rather been put down for England after Belgium secured two wins by scoring eight goals and, in all honesty, still have plenty left in the tank.
The England boss is expected to make changes for the game in Nizhny Novgorod.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, so impressive off the bench against Tunisia, could be called up with Dele Alli’s fitness a worry. Given England are likely – or certainly expected – to dominate this tussle, Marcus Rashford could also earn a start alongside Harry Kane.
The England skipper couldn’t have got his tournament off to a better start than by scoring a match-winning brace on Monday. It is no surprise to find he is 2/1 favourite to net the first goal here.
Kane to score two or more goals is as short as 9/4, and he might be worth a punt in that market as Panama looked very limited against Belgium.
England need a statement win in this game. There were plenty positives against Tunisia, but ultimately it was a nervy night.
Getting that late winner should have injected some buzz and confidence in the camp and they must now seize on that against what looks to be one of the weakest teams in Russia. Panama are rank outsiders here at 17/1, odds that illustrate the need for a strong England performance.
If they do that, they’ll then face Belgium and others with wind in their sails. England to win half-time/full-time is 20/27 and they should oblige.
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