England vs Panama Preview: Victory secures progression for Southgate's side

England vs Panama Preview: Victory secures progression for Southgate's side

England will join Belgium on six points at the top of Group G going into their final game.

Chris Lincoln

England fans will be hoping their side comfortably see off World Cup debutants Panama on Sunday. However, if the competition has taught us anything thus far, you cannot take any country for granted in this tournament.

Tunisia result put into perspective

England themselves only managed to secure victory against Tunisia in the final few moments of their contest. Wasteful finishing, the unreliability of VAR and a rigid defensive display by the North Africans left England looking to their captain to dig them out of a hole once again.

Although the performance of Southgate's side was widely applauded, perhaps it was put into perspective when Belgium hammered Tunisia 5-2 and should have scored two or three more on Saturday afternoon. That leaves Roberto Martinez' side five goals better off when it comes to goal difference but a narrow win for Gareth Southgate's side over Panama could ironically prove more helpful than a big margin of success.

With Brazil looking likely to finish top of their group and Germany probably going to finish second in Group F, England could face one of the two nations in the quarter-finals if they top their group and progress, as anticipated, through the last 16 stage. Yet finishing second to Belgium will ensure England meet teams they would expect to beat all the way up to the semi-finals, providing Brazil win Group E and Germany do not top their group.


Loftus-Cheek and Rashford in for Alli and Sterling?

However, all eyes will be firmly on Panama this weekend. Southgate prepares in great depth for every contest, although he has lost a period of "thinking time", as he described it, following his infamous fall in the woods whilst out on a run during the week.

Panama will go into the contest with physicality. Captain Roman Torres stared down Eden Hazard during the coin toss of Panama's defeat to Belgium and that set the tone for the Central Americans who were aggressive in their challenges, picking up five bookings in the process. Their main attacking threat will come from counter-attacks in their 4-5-1 formation and long throw-ins but such forays forward are likely to be few and far between.

All of England feel they know Southgate's starting line-up already after coach Steve Holland was pictured holding what appeared to be a revealing teamsheet. If that image is to be believed, Marcus Rashford is set to replace Raheem Sterling and Ruben Loftus-Cheek will play instead of Dele Alli, who only lightly trained with the squad on Saturday. Harry Kane will be looking to add to the brace he pounced upon against Tunisia which took him to a total of ten goals in his last eight international appearances.

Panama have never beaten a European nation

Whilst England are unbeaten in eleven, Panama have been victorious in just one of their last eight. They have never played England but have failed to beat all ten European sides they have faced previously.

The favourites will be expecting to celebrate qualification to the knockout stages with relative ease as fans at home work their way through an estimated extra 14 million pints throughout the game. 

Yet the squad will have to ensure they remain focused purely on securing victory, first and foremost, whilst also returning to their Repino base unscathed against a physical Panama unit.