The Three Lions could seal qualification from Group G on Sunday. Beat Panama and they are through without many issues, it almost sounds too good to be true!
The game against Tunisia did not go without a hitch however. Despite a scintillating start against the African side, England were left frustrated in the second half by their opponents and the officials. Gareth Southgate’s side struggled to break them down and they were denied two clear penalties when Harry Kane was bundled over twice. It was like watching WWE’s Kane rather than Tottenham’s superstar, but the England Captain stepped up to score an injury time winner with a back-post header.
All the built up criticism from a frustrating second half disappeared in the roars of jubilation as England grabbed a deserved win against Tunisia, a victory that has set them on their way towards qualification from Group G.
There is little doubt that England will be expected to not only beat Panama, but beat them rather comfortably. The Central American side are seen as one of the ‘minnows’ of the competition and were largely touted to be the whipping boys of the group.
That does not dampen their spirits however. Panama held Belgium for a full half before the quality of the opposition became too much as they fell to a 3-0 defeat. It was not a whipping as expected though and it has to be remembered that this team did pip the USA to qualification. They have earned their position in the World Cup and they should not be under-estimated.
Panama will know they can not go head to head with England in terms of quality, but they will quite happily make the game a dog fight. They will be defensive and looked to use their physicality and spirit to disrupt England. It will not be easy on the eye but it could be effective.
Panama will look to their superstar Roman Torres who Captains the side and scored the goal that got them to the World Cup. Torres is like a movie star in his home land. His face is everywhere, from billboards ,to bus stops to sports shops, Torres is most definitely a character and a superstar in Panama and he will be a goal threat even from defence.
Panama have no injury problems to report so they will likely line-up the same way as they did against Belgium. The 4-5-1 may be adapted into a 5-4-1 in defensive situations, or if they are really up against it then they may stick 10 men behind the ball and use their lone striker as an outlet on the counter.
England on the other hand do have injury troubles (and we are not talking about Southgate’s dislocated shoulder). Dele Alli’s thigh injury that was picked up against Tunisia is likely to keep him out of the side which could pave the way for Ruben Loftus-Cheek to start after impressing as a substitute against Tunisia.
There has also been talks on whether Raheem Sterling should start after a poor performance on Monday. There are calls for Marcus Rashford to take his place after looking more lively than the Manchester City player when he came on against Tunisia.
Apart from that it is likely the starting 11 will remain the same as the one that played on Monday. There is little need for change apart from the issues highlighted.
England looked great for 20 minutes against Tunisia. They came out of the blocks really well and played some of the best football we have seen so far in the World Cup. The rest of the game was rather average though and if it was not for a last gasp winner from Kane then England may have had to settle for a draw.
Expect England to start quickly here too and grab an early goal. Panama will settle eventually into their shell and make it difficult, but overall the match will be more comfortable than the one against Tunisia as Panama do not possess as much quality on the ball.
Prediction: England 3-0 Panama
England vs Panama takes place on June 24th at 1PM BST
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