England will face Panama for the first time ever in Nizhny Novgorod tomorrow at 1pm and if they win they will confirm their place in the last 16.
England will have started few World Cup matches as such an overwhelming favourite but it’s a tag they’ve historically struggled with- anyone remember needing a dodgy Peter Crouch goal to see off Trinidad & Tobago?
England’s momentum has been building since their win over Tunisia and even a team leek and the manager dislocating his shoulder has been unable to derail it, failure to beat Panama however…
It shouldn’t come to that, Panama looked woefully out of their depth against Belgium even though it took an hour for Dries Mertens to break their resistance, if England start as brightly as they did against Tunisia they should win comfortably.
The expected team changes are hardly surprising and both make sense. Dele Alli is struggling with a thigh strain and against such a defensive side it makes sense to bring in Ruben Loftus-Cheek with his teasing close control and passing range that troubled Tunisia when he came off the bench.
Raheem Sterling was better than many suggested against Tunisia but he struggled when crowded out by the physically strong deep sitting Tunisia defence: the exact way Panama will play and Marcus Rashford with his more direct style looks a better fit.
Inevitably Belgium’s 5 goal showing against Tunisia raises expectations of England tonking Panama but it is worth remembering Belgium’s big wins are 2 of only 3 recorded in tournament to date- Spain beat Iran 1-0, Brazil were goalless with Costa Rica until injury time, winning is what matters tomorrow not the margin of victory. It’s also worth pointing out winning this group looks like offering a tougher path through the Knockout phase but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
I expect a comfortable win tomorrow but would happily take a 1-0.
Prediction: England 3-0 Panama