You could probably count on one hand the number of people that have given England a realistic shot in this tournament. But that doesn’t mean that the national team are destined for destruction and another embarrassing exit either.
Here are my predictions for how England will fare:
Tunisia vs. England
After a 12-year absence, Tunisia return to the WC. This will mark the African nation’s fifth appearance at the tournament following their Group A-topping qualifier campaign.
They are without a win in their past three finals appearances, however. This time around the Tunisians have a lack of striking options with Wahbi Khazri having moved into the makeshift role after a successful loan spell in the position at Ligue 1 Rennes.
Match Prediction: With the third youngest squad at the competition and expectations remaining somewhat diluted, England will play with a lot less pressure weighing them down. After an awkward start, England will quickly find their feet and take the game to Tunisia. They’ll enjoy the lion share of possession and produce some free-flowing football as the game progresses. Tunisia will eventually leave themselves exposed and England will exploit to good measure. It’ll be largely what you expect from an opening tie against Tunisia at the World Cup. Their resilient shape will be difficult to break down and a clean sheet is also expectedly on the cards.
Score Prediction: 0-2
England vs. Panama
The Central Americans qualified for their first ever WC with a dramatic 2-1 win over Costa Rica during the final CONCACAF match day. Forward Blas Perez has appeared for over a century for his country, featuring in four qualifying campaigns and scoring 11 goals in the process.
Expect England to utilise their numbers and rotate several positions. Jack Butland could feature with Jordan Pickford rested for the upcoming Belgium decider. Trent Alexander-Arnold could make his first senior international appearance at a major tournament in place of Kieran Trippier, with Danny Rose potentially a suitable option for a similar switch on the opposing side. Marcus Rashford is unlikely to start England’s opener but could see himself favoured over Jesse Lingard this time around.
Match Prediction: England will face even less resistance in a game that could result in a fashionable romping. Southgate may show some restraint though, with one eye focused towards his Group G decider. The team will likely come out of the traps flying, taking the game to a nervy Panama whose defensive vulnerabilities will surface almost immediately. England will control the game from start to finish and see off their opponents comprehensively.
Score Prediction: 4-0
England vs. Belgium
This game could and should offer one of the most tantalising group stage games at the tournament. At this stage, both teams will have 6 points and high goal differences which leaves open an interesting conundrum: do you set up shop and hold out for a point to allow goal difference to see you over the line or do you go out with the intent to win? Anticipate the latter.
Both teams attack in great numbers and can be deadly on the right day. However, both have shown defensive frailties that could largely be exposed down their respective left sides through Ashley Young and Yannick Carrasco. Belgium may also take some satisfaction from this England side’s lack of tournament experience.
Match Prediction: The flow of the game will be difficult to predict. Things will begin pretty neutrally with both teams eventually opening themselves up further as it unfolds. Expect a high-flying game once the dust settles, becoming increasingly entertaining, complete with a dramatic finale. England to start slow and lift themselves with an impressive second-half showing. Belgium display some complacency and are punished for their insolence.
Score Prediction: 2-2
Round of 16 – Colombia
Goal difference will marginally see England finish top of their group and challenging for a place in the quarter-finals against Group H runners-up, Colombia.
Both teams are quite similarly placed. You’d expect that England may not kick themselves at the prospect of a second place with a more favourable L16 tie vs. Poland awaiting them.
Match Prediction: This could prove a largely frustrating game for England who will be matched competitively for both pace and fluidity. Both teams move the ball well and there will be a lot of emphasis on winning the ball high up the pitch. This is a game where your midfield could make or break your outcome. One goal will likely decided who wins and it will come England’s way somewhere deep into the second-half, making for a restless conclusion as a Colombian onslaught ensues.
Score Prediction: 1-0
Quarter-Finals – Brazil
By far the toughest test England will face. No matter where they place in the group stages, the odds appear to be against them at this stage regardless with either Germany or Brazil likely looming.
Brazil will dispatch Mexico without breaking much of a sweat and be ready for their quarter-final tie here.
Match Prediction: There won’t be any need for extra-time or penalties. England will sadly crash out at this stage following a dominant display from Brazil. But it won’t all be doom and gloom. There will be glimmers of hope peppered throughout the tie. Brazil will prove to be the eventual winners of the entire tournament as their uncompromising style and sharpness proving too much for England to curtail.
Score Prediction: 3-1
All-in-all, a satisfying first tournament for Gareth Southgate,. His new-look England side will take this as an opportunity to blood themselves in on the biggest stage and defy expectations with a number of quality performances and some attractive football. A stepping stone towards what could potentially become greatness.