ENGLAND make their 2018 World Cup bow on Monday evening when meeting Tunisia in Volgograd. Adam Goodwin (@AGJournalism) previews Group G’s contest.
Tunisia v England | Monday 18th June 2018, 19:00 | BBC
England flags draped out of windows and World In Motion on repeat, World Cup fever has finally hit the country.
Gareth Southgate will be hoping to better England’s performance in 2014, where they failed to even win a game.
Tunisia were the first ever African side to win a game at the World Cup and this group of players will look to make their own bits of history, just like the side in 1978.
The whole mood around the England camp feels different this year. Southgate has been a breath of fresh air and has done and said all the right things leading up to the World Cup.
The England players were blocked from talking about their darts tournament to the media at Euro 2016. At this World Cup, England players were playing the media at darts. This might seem insignificant to many, but it appears to have got the English press onside and relaxed this young and inexperienced England squad.
Many England fans were worried that the 3-4-3 formation would be too defensive in games against Tunisia and Panama, but with Eric Dier set to be replaced by the more offensive Dele Alli in centre midfield, it offers England that extra option going forward.
Tunisia suffered a huge blow before the World Cup had even started, when their star man Youssef Msakni was ruled out of the tournament. Msakni plays for Al-Duhail in the Qatar Stars League and has been linked with Leicester as a possible replacement for Riyad Mahrez.
Tunisia manager Nabil Maâloul has said that losing Msakni is like Argentina playing without Lionel Messi, and he’ll be a massive loss for the Eagles of Carthage in Russia.
It’s up to Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri (yep, he still plays for them) to fill the whole left by Msakni. Khazri spent last season on loan at Rennes and will be looking to impress in Russia, hoping to secure a move away from League One next season.
He did make an appearance for the France U21 side, but switched allegiances to Tunisia in 2013 and has since scored a respectable 12 goals in 36 games for them. He’ll operate in a more attacking role than what he did at Sunderland and will be looking to get the better of his former teammate Jordan Pickford.
Tunisia will look to sit deep and look for any opportunities to get forward on the counter-attack but without Msakni, they’re unlikely to be able to create many chances in attacking areas. A lot of responsibility will fall to Khazri and I’m doubtful that he’ll have enough quality to carry this Tunisia side to a result.
The betting angles
Raheem Sterling was one of the most prolific English players in the Premier League last season, with 18 goals in 33 games. But plenty of people still seemed to criticise Sterling – amongst many other things – on the amount of chances he missed for club and country.
But with the Manchester City winger set to play in a more central role next to Harry Kane, he could be good value to net the Three Lions’ first goal in Russia.
Unibet have it priced up at 24/5 and I think that could be a great bet for this one.
Tunisia v England – Raheem Sterling to score first (24/5 Unibet)