World Cup Candidates: Interviewing the Group G hopefuls

World Cup Candidates: Interviewing the Group G hopefuls

The penultimate chapter of the World Cup preview series takes a look at debutants Panama, North African hopefuls Tunisia, dark horses Belgium and, of course, England!

chris-lincoln
Chris Lincoln; Harry Robinson; John Lupo

Each day we preview four new World Cup nations. Can they win the ultimate process and secure the role of reigning World champions?

Today, it's Group G.

England

Known as: Three Lions

Address: Wembley, London

Best previous role: World Cup winners, 1966

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

We’re a young bunch with plenty of pace and power, giving us the ability to hurt teams on the break. We’ve tightened up at the back of late, meaning that we’ll be tough to break down regardless of opposition – just ask Brazil, Germany and Holland who’ve all failed to score against us in the last 12 months.

There are a few glaring weaknesses, such as inexperience. Gary Cahill is our most experienced squad member with 58 caps and the likes of Joe Hart, James Milner and Wayne Rooney have gone from the scene. Penalties too, are an issue – banishing us from three of our last six competitions. We lack a star passer of the ball in midfield, giving us a slight issue against teams that park the bus.

What happened last time out?

Ah, Brazil 2014. Some blame the manager, some blame the group, some blame the heat. Most will blame the Uruguayan medical team for getting Luis Suarez fit enough to score a winner against us. Either way, bad things happened. Out in the group stages after just two games.

Have you set up meetings with any other candidates?

Just the three. We meet Tunisia on June 18 before coming face-to-face with Panama six days later, rounding off with Belgium on June 28. We hope to see a few more opponents after that, though.

What’s your strategy to beat those candidates?

The counter-attack! We’ll likely set up with a five-man defence and look to use our pace and trickery going forward to sucker punch opponents. However, those we face early on in the process may be pleased to see us set up negatively, which could force a change of thinking.

Who are you relying on to help you secure the job?

It’s got to be Harry Kane. Edged out of a third successive Golden Boot, he still managed to bag 30 Premier League goals plus some in Europe to further establish himself as one of Europe’s top marksmen.

Aside from Kane, Raheem Sterling and John Stones are sure to be crucial. Both come off excellent seasons for Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking Manchester City side and we’re really hoping they can step up and deliver on the international scene.

Any wildcards that might help you out?

Trent Alexander-Arnold has played in a Champions League final but hasn’t even made the bench for us competitively yet. He could be used in defence or midfield as a fairly unknown quantity this summer.

Finally, where do you see yourself in five years weeks?

Crying, likely. We’ve already booked the plane home after a last 16 penalty shoot-out defeat.  

 

Belgium

Known as: The Red Devils

Address: King Baudouin Stadium, Brussels

Best previous role: Fourth place, 1986

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

We have a strong spine to our team influenced by a flurry of Premier League stars. In central defence, we can choose from the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen, supported by Thibaut Courtois between the sticks behind them. Our midfield boasts the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Dries Mertens who can unlock any defence in the competition.

Perhaps our biggest weakness is our inconsistency in front of goal. Romelu Lukaku is our all-time top goalscorer but struggles ‘to do it against the big teams’. Michy Batshuayi is another option but couldn’t nail down a first-team place with Chelsea before going on loan to Borussia Dortmund.

What happened last time out?

There was plenty of expectation on our shoulders with a similar but more youthful squad but we struggled through the group stages four years ago. We were losing to Algeria before goals in the last 20 minutes from Marouane Fellaini and Dries Mertens secured victory. Late strikes became a regular feature of our tournament with goals in the 88th and 78th minutes securing 1-0 wins against Russia and South Korea respectively.

We dominated our last 16 match against USA but could not score in 90 minutes so had to rely on extra-time goals from De Bruyne and Lukaku to formulate another single-goal victory. However, our luck ran out in the quarter-finals when Argentina beat us 1-0 after an early Gonzalo Higuain strike.

Have you set up meetings with any other candidates?

We begin the campaign against Panama on June 18th before fixtures against Tunisia on the 23rd and England on the 28th. However, we will be expecting to meet at least a couple more candidates later in the tournament.

What’s your strategy to beat those candidates?

Attacking football but with a better strike rate than we contributed four years ago.

Who are you relying on to help you secure the job?

De Bruyne and Hazard will be key to our productivity. But for a remarkable season from Mo Salah, the former would have been the Player of the Year in the Premier League. However, Lukaku will need to ensure he brings his shooting boots if we are going to progress into the later stages.

Any wildcards that might help you out?

Adnan Januzaj - after failing to make an impact at Manchester United, the winger has been a regular for Real Sociedad in La Liga this season.

Finally, where do you see yourself in five years weeks?

Ruing missed chances again. We fancy our chances of going a long way in the tournament but realistically the end of the road could be the quarter-finals against Germany or Brazil.

 

Tunisia

Known as: The Eagles of Carthage

Address: Radès, Tunisia

Best previous role: Group stage finisher (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006)

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

We’re an unknown outfit with low expectations but a strong, disciplined midfield of Ferjani Sassi, Mohamed Ben Amor and Ghaylene Chaalali. A well-drilled side, we showed two key qualities in qualification. One of those was resilience, coming from behind against DR Congo with two goals in three minutes in one of our most important games during the campaign, as well as thrashing Guinea 4-1 after conceding first. The second quality shown was our backs-to-the-wall ability, evidenced in a 2-1 win against DR Congo. That will come in handy against Belgium and England.

Our Group G rivals, England, have had their fair share of injury woes ahead of World Cups with Rooney, Owen and the like. This year, it’s our turn. Our top goalscorer and talisman Youssef Msakni was vital in qualifying but a gutting knee ligament injury suffered while playing club football means he won’t be in Russia. Manager Nabil Maaloul said it was like Argentina losing Messi. Our other glaring weakness is the group we’ve been drawn in, with two heavyweights in Belgium and England. Injury and an unfortunate draw could stop us before we’ve even touched ground in northern Europe.

What happened last time out?

Erm, it’s been a while. But not too long. 2006 was the last time. We didn’t win a game. In fact, it’s been 40 years since we won a World Cup game. We’ve played in three more tournaments since then, but we’re still looking for our second win. I guess we should say thanks to Mexico for that one brief flirtation with global glory.

Have you set up meetings with any other candidates?

There are three scheduled, and it’s very unlikely there will be additions to that. But for now, we’ll be meeting England on June 18 before a lunchtime game against Belgium on June 23 and then a final underdog-underdog face-off against Panama on June 28. Who knows, we might win one of them!

What’s your strategy to beat those candidates?

Win the midfield battle, defend solidly for 90 minutes and grab a set-piece goal.

Who are you relying on to help you secure the job?

It would have been Msakni but, with his recent injury, multiple shoulders will share the burden. Sunderland forward Wahbi Khazri, on loan at Rennes in France, has the talent and the form to lead us. He’ll hope to be helped by Naïm Sliti, Ben Amor and Ali Maaloul.

Any wildcards that might help you out?

Unlikely. We’re a team that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Khazri is a known quantity already and it’s hard to see any of the aforementioned talents being notably outstanding.

Finally, where do you see yourself in five years weeks?

Celebrating a first World Cup campaign in 12 years, and hopefully our first win in 40 years against Panama, but ruing the injury to our starman Msakni.

 

Panama

Known as: Los Canaleros (The Canal Men)

Address: Estadio Rommel Fernandez

Best previous role: First World Cup appearance

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

What we may lack in talent as compared to some other teams (especially Belgium and England in our group) we make up for in hard work. We are a stingy defensive team.

Our weakness is our lack of experience at this level. Belgium, England and even Tunisia have all appeared in the World Cup before. We also don't score a lot: just 16 goals in 16 qualifying games.

What happened last time out?

As mentioned, this is our first World Cup appearance.

Have you set up meetings with any other candidates?

In the space of five days between March 22nd and March 27th, we lost 1-0 to Denmark and 6-0 to Switzerland. These were in preparation for tough opening games against Belgium and England before facing Panama.

What's your strategy to beat those teams?

We played a very defensive system in both friendly matches despite a 4-4-2 formation. We were just content to sit back and defend for the entirety of both games.

Who are you relying on to help you secure the job?

Roman Torres. He scored the goal against Costa Rica in qualifying two minutes from time to send us to Russia.

Gabriel Gomez is the manager on the pitch according to coach Hernan Gomez. He reads the game well, sets the tone and settles everything down for us.

Any wildcards that might help you out?

Abdiel Arroyo. His pace and speed are enough to scare any team and if he can be composed in front of goal, we may throw up a surprise or two.

Finally, where do you yourself five years weeks from now?

Let's be honest, we are realistically just hoping to finish third behind Belgium and England. If we beat Tunisia, it will be something very special. 14 players have been capped over 100 times for the national team, so this is a great reward for all of the hard work they have put in over the years.

 

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