Tunisia vs England Preview: Southgate's Three Lions kick-off World Cup campaign against a testing Tunisia side
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Tunisia vs England Preview: Southgate's Three Lions kick-off World Cup campaign against a testing Tunisia side

The time for talking is over as England finally begin their much anticipated World Cup campaign in a Monday night showdown with Tunisia in the Volgograd Arena.

Joshua Kerr

England kick-off their much anticipated World Cup campaign on Monday night in the second fixture of Group G as they face Tunisia in the competition for the first time in 20 years.

Gareth Southgate's troops will now know whats expected of them after being handed a favourable group which includes Belgium, Panama and of course Tunisia.

The Three Lions come into the Tournament in respectable form with two friendly wins against Nigeria and Costa Rica with Southgate's side also booking their trip to Russia unbeaten in qualifying. 

Meanwhile, Tunisia travel to the Volgograd Arena without victory in their final three friendlies before the World Cup. However, The Eagles of Carthage earned a respectable 2-2 draw against Euro 2016 champions Portugal as well proving a sturdy opponent for Spain in a  1-0 defeat just a week ago.

Kicking off with a win

England will be looking to avoid a repeat of their embarrassing group-stage exit four years ago, Southgate's side will know a victory is vital on Monday night with Group G opponents Belgium likely to pick up all three points against Panama.

However, The Three Lions will undoubtedly be up for a potentially tricky match as Tunisia sit 12th in the World Rankings - their highest finish since 1998.

The North African side are competing in their first World Cup since 2006, and Tunisia know they face an uphill battle to cause any kind of upset against an England side that is expected.

The two teams last faced each other 20-years-ago in the 1998 World cup in France where England eased to a 2-0 victory thanks to goals from Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes.

The Three Lions previous tournaments leave the fans spectacle as what to expect this time around, England reached the quarter-finals of both the 2002 and 2006 competitions, but exited the 2010 World Cup in the round of 16, before failing to make it out of the group stage in Brazil back in 2014 showing a steady decline over recent tournaments.

It's fair to say there isn't a great expectancy for this England team to do well but that could work in their favour with Southgate navigating an unusual formation and a style of play that his players are getting behind. Also, the camaraderie in the England camp seems to be at an all-time high.

3-5-2 the blueprints for success?

Southgate will be looking to see how his favourable 3-5-2 formation fares for the first time in tournament football with England facing the side he kicked off his World Cup career as a player 20 years ago.

The traditional 4-2-3-1 system gave way to a more unorthodox 3-5-2 system, which had proved successful for Chelsea under Antonio Conte in their title-winning season in 2016/17.

The new shape for England has seen some benefits for the Three Lions with supporters also warming to Southgate's desired formation.

The extra man at the back provides better passing options to the defenders during the first phase of build-up play. Also, the extra cover gives ball-playing defenders such as John Stones and Kyle Walker the licence to push further up the field.

Can Tunisia cause an upset?

On paper, it's expected England should ease to victory. However, history would suggest The Three Lions have a habit of doing things the hard way and Tunisia are a side that should not be underestimated.

Their qualification for their first World Cup in twelve years brought optimism and the country feel they can represent North Africa well.

Tunisia squeaked through to the finals only a point ahead of DR Congo, although they were unbeaten in their group conceding only four goals.

They have the capability to be a disciplined and unified team. They like to counter-attack quickly and it could prove a test for England if they aren't at their very best.

Sitting 21st in the World Rankings they represent the highest seeded team in North Africa even rising above Senegal who have the likes of Sadio Mane and Cheikhou Kouyaté in their ranksso this Tunisia side should not be taken lightly.

Team News

Jordan Pickford has been handed the number one jersey after his greater ball-playing ability will likely see him get the nod over Jack Butland for Englands starting keeper.

The midfield pivot will either be filled by Jordan Henderson or Eric Dier although Henderson is favourite to start as his passing range may be more likely to unlock deeper lying defences such as Tunisia and Panama.

Stones and Walker seem guaranteed starters which means the final defensive role will likely fall to either Harry Maguire or Gary Cahill.

Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard look poised to start in the advanced midfield roles whilst England captain Harry Kane is certain to lead the no 9 role. 

Despite starring against Costa Rica with a sublime solo goal, Marcus Rashford looks destined to the bench as an injury scare, as well as the tremendous form of Raheem Sterling, looks to see the false 10 position secured by the Manchester City starlet.

Out wide, Kieran Trippier is the favourite for the right wing-back role, while Danny Rose’s dynamic performance against Costa Rica may not be enough to convince Southgate to favour him over Ashley Young who has endured a fine season with Manchester United

Experienced Tunisian keeper Aymen Mathlouthi looks set to be the sides number one whilst Ferjani Sassi and Ellyes Skhiri also look set to start on Monday.

Sunderland winger Wahbi Khazri has not played since injuring his thigh while on loan at Rennes in April, but the Tunisia captain looks likely to start against England. 

Predicted Line-ups

Tunisia: Mathlouthi; Bronn, Syam Ben Youssef, Meriah, Ali Maaloul; Skhiri, Sassi, Khaoui; Badri, Khazri, Fakhreddine Ben Youssef.

England: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Henderson, Lingard, Alli, Young; Sterling, Kane.