Heroic Harry Kane breaks Tunisian hearts

This game had the potential to mark the beginning of a new era for the English national team. After years of constant disappointment, culminating in an embarrassing elimination from Euro 2016 at the hands of Iceland, this latest iteration of the Three Lions was coming in to the World Cup with little hype and plenty of talent. Nine of the players in their starting line-up to face Tunisia were making their World Cup debuts, and there was a feeling that this side, spearheaded by the remarkable Harry Kane, could usher in an exciting new time for English football. Then, on the pitch, Gareth Southgate’s youngsters dominated, but conceded a fortunate goal to their opponents and were only saved from the ignominy of a first-up draw by Kane’s heroic 91st minute winner. Have they changed? It’s not yet clear.

England began the game in ominous form, blowing Tunisia away in the early stages with their electrifying attacking play as the chances came thick and fast. Jordan Henderson’s long ball in behind found Dele Alli, whose dangerous cut back nearly found Raheem Sterling in a great position. Tunisia intercepted, but Alli picked the pocket of left-back Ali Maâloul in the penalty area and Jesse Lingard’s shot was only just blocked by Mouez Hassen. Hassen was called into action at the next corner, leaping desperately to deny Harry Maguire’s header, and shortly afterwards he was caught out when Lingard broke through the defence and found Sterling in front of an open goal. Somehow, the talented youngster missed. Meanwhile, Hassen lay on the ground, having injured his shoulder trying in vain to stop Lingard. Less than five minutes had elapsed.

Unsurprisingly, the goal soon followed, and it came from another poor piece of marking at a corner. Ashley Young swung it in, and this time it was John Stones who rose above the rest and headed towards the top corner, forcing Hassen into another incredible save. Unfortunately for him, the ball landed right onto the boot of Kane, who had absolutely no trouble finishing a straightforward chance from inside the six-yard box. For those looking for a new era, it was a very promising start. As England’s new captain wheeled away in celebration, it was hard to escape the feeling that Kane’s easy finish was the first of many goals to come.

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English coach Gareth Southgate celebrates following his side’s dramatic victory. Southgate seemed fairly concerned during the second half, and he let his relief show when Kane gave England a late lead.

The next few minutes did little to contradict that theory. Hassen’s injury led to his removal shortly after Kane’s opener, and Farouk Ben Mustapha, the third-choice goalkeeper in the squad (Hassen was already playing over the unavailable Aymen Mathlouthi) was called into action. He was needed shortly afterwards to save Henderson’s volley, and as England continued to create chances Lingard missed a volley from close range and Maguire forced Ben Mustapha into another save after a strong header. England were creating all the chances, and were repelling anything Tunisia threw at them.

Then, disaster struck. Being England, a side with a chequered relationship with penalties, of course the goal came from a spot kick. Kyle Walker was the culprit, unnecessarily flinging out an arm as he defended Dylan Bronn’s cross and catching Fakhreddine Ben Youssef flush in the face. When Ben Youssef went down like a ton of bricks, Wilmar Roldán was quick to point to the spot. Taking the kick, Ferjani Sassi made no mistake, with Jordan Pickford getting a fingertip to the ball but not doing enough to prevent it from finding the back of the net.

England had more chances as they looked to retake the lead. A Kieran Trippier free-kick was headed down by Maguire, and when Alli beat Ben Mustapha to the follow-up effort it created a nervous moment for Syam Ben Youssef. The centre-back just cleared Alli’s header off the line, and both Sterling and Stones failed to connect properly as they sought to take advantage of Tunisia’s defensive disarray. Meanwhile, Kane was tackled by Sassi in the box, but Roldán missed the incident completely. Lingard had two more chances as the half drew to a close, with Bronn deflecting his excellent volley over the bar and a dangerous run allowing him to tap the ball over Ben Mustapha only for it to roll harmlessly into the post. On another day, England could have gone into half time ahead by three or four goals. Instead, they were tied.

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Harry Kane (back) heads home England’s late winner. Kane scored two crucial goals, with his second breaking a deadlock that had existed for over half the game.

The second half started fairly slowly, with England largely dictating terms but not finding any real chances against the Tunisian defence. It didn’t matter too much, as the inaction only stretched for the first 10 minutes of the half while the English settled back in. Then it stretched on. The hour mark passed. Then 65 minutes. Suddenly, 75 minutes had elapsed and England hadn’t seriously threatened the Tunisian goal for around half an hour. Maguire and Walker were seemingly no longer playing as centre-backs, instead parking themselves in Tunisia’s half. Marcus Rashford was introduced in a desperate attempt to make something – anything – happen. All that they managed to create was a couple of free-kicks in potentially dangerous spots, both of which missed the target.

England were still dominating in the final few minutes, but Tunisia held firm. Maâloul frustrated Trippier by standing in front of the ball as the wing-back looked to move the ball on quickly. Wahbi Khazri left the game with five minutes to go, stopping just short of taking a lap of honour as he walked off the field while exchanging pleasantries from Roldán and detouring to accept the congratulations of his teammates. Ruben Loftus-Cheek came off the bench and made some things happen, but it looked like the match would end in despair despite all of England’s hard work. It felt like such a shame.

Then, just as it seemed like England would need to settle for a draw, the winner came. It was Kane, of course. Trippier’s ball into the box found Maguire and Syam Ben Youssef, and Maguire rose above the determined centre-back to head it towards the back post. Then, after 45 minutes of almost flawless defending, the Eagles of Carthage left England’s captain all alone, and in a perfect position just inside the six-yard box. He was never going to miss, and England could breathe a massive sigh of relief as they finally saw off a determined Tunisian challenge. It was a close run thing, but the new-look Three Lions came out with the win, and will only grow in confidence from here. Is it the start of a new era? We shall see.

Volgograd – Volgograd Arena
Tunisia 1 (Sassi 35 pen)
England 2 (Kane 11, 90+1)
Referee: Wilmar Roldán (Col)
Tunisia (4-3-3): Hassen (Ben Mustapha 15) – Bronn, S Ben Youssef, Meriah, Maâloul; Sassi, Skhiri, Badri; F Ben Youssef, Khazri (Khalifa 85), Sliti (Ben Amor 73).
England (3-5-2): Pickford – Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Alli (Loftus-Cheek 80), Henderson, Lingard (Dier 90+3), Young; Sterling (Rashford 68), Kane.

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Jesse Lingard has an early shot at the Tunisian goal. Lingard was lively from the start, and was very unlucky not to find the back of the net.

Top 5
1. Jesse Lingard (England)
Lingard was full of energy, bursting through the Tunisian defensive line on a number of occasions and creating plenty of chances. He was unlucky not to find the back of the net during a dynamic first half performance, and his movement in transition created plenty of space for his teammates to work into.
2. Harry Kane (England)
Kane managed two poachers’ goals, and showed why he is such a dangerous goal-scorer in the process. He worked tirelessly all day, stepped up exactly when his team needed a hero, and positioned himself perfectly to get himself a brace on World Cup debut. If there was any doubt about his credentials before, he has erased it with a brilliant performance.
3. Syam Ben Youssef (Tunisia)
Ben Youssef had plenty of work to do against England’s dynamic attack, but he stayed composed and did very well to stave off some dangerous pieces of forward play. He was the only member of Tunisia’s back four who performed well in the first period, and he looked even more solid in the second half when his teammates started to pick up their efforts.
4. Kieran Trippier (England)
Trippier’s set piece delivery was brilliant, as was his energy and attacking presence down the right flank. He played a key hand in England’s injury time winner, and ensured they kept pushing right up to the final whistle with his desperation to get the ball moving quickly.
5. Jordan Henderson (England)
Henderson created plenty of chances with his dangerous diagonal balls in behind the Tunisian defence. As ever, he positioned himself well in holding midfield and allowed the English to thrive with his solidity. He occasionally threatened in attack, and could be a very handy part of the English side down the track.

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2018 FIFA World Cup Preview – Final Prediction

Who will win the World Cup? As ever, it’s a complicated question, and much of the fascination of the tournament is watching the drama play out. When assessing the 32 teams’ respective chances to take home the ultimate prize, it becomes clear that these sides can be grouped based on their levels of ambition. At the top, the main contenders are set to be the ones battling it out at the end. They are the teams who historically win the tournament, and will set victory as their goal coming in. Then there’s the second-tier, or the dark horses who have a legitimate chance of winning if things fall their way. They are more consistent performers, with quality to match anyone. The wildcards are the teams that could make it as far as the semi-finals and are capable of pulling off a big upset, while the knockout hopefuls are the largely unspectacular sides setting their sights on the round of 16. The early exiters round out the competition, being the teams with no realistic chance of winning and slim hopes of progressing past the second round. This preview will touch on all of these groups, before eventually predicting the winner of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The Contenders

Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Spain
Thanks to the non-qualification of Italy, and a number of other factors, the usual suspects may be a bit thin on the ground in Russia. Germany will always be there at the end, as will Brazil, and both sides should be considered the top favourites going into the tournament. France are the third of the contenders with a very good chance of taking home the trophy, and their quality is undeniable. Then there’s Argentina and Spain, both of whom may struggle at the tournament after distracted preparations. Argentina’s decision to cancel a pre-tournament friendly against Israel not only left them underdone but also created a diplomatic incident. Meanwhile, Spain’s decision to sack their coach two days out from the tournament is certain to impact their results, and they will now do well to escape from a tough group.

The Dark Horses

Belgium, Poland, Portugal, Uruguay
With so few of the main contenders still primed for a deep run, the door may be open for one of these sides to sneak in and buck the trend. Belgium and Poland are strong, but their runs may be hindered by the draw. If one doesn’t win their group, they may find themselves facing off in the second round. Even if Belgium, as expected, win Group G and the Poles take out Group H, quarter-final dates with Brazil (for Belgium) and Germany (for Poland) would probably finish them off. Uruguay and Portugal are probably best placed to take advantage of Spain’s woes, and both are consistent teams who are capable of going a long way.

The Wildcards

Colombia, Croatia, Egypt, England, Iceland, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal
Three of these wildcards are in Group D, where a vulnerable Argentina means that Croatia, Iceland and Nigeria are not a bad chance of taking them out. Of the three, the Croatians are probably the most damaging. They are as good, if not better than, the Argentinians, and could easily pry them out of top spot. Of course, everything could fall in a heap as well, especially with their off-field concerns, but a semi-final run is not out of the question. Nigeria and Senegal are both in tough groups where they will either thrive or crash out, while Egypt could also make a splash if they can overcome Mohamed Salah’s injury issues. The turmoil surrounding Spain leaves Morocco with a chance of edging them out, and they may be a tough opponent in the knockouts. The same can be said for Iceland, and the English are unpredictable – and dangerous.

The Knockout Hopefuls

Denmark, Mexico, Peru, Serbia, Sweden, Switzerland
These teams come from just three groups, and are in competition with each other. As a general rule, they shouldn’t make too much of a splash. The Swiss are the best of the teams in terms of ranking and consistency, but they may face stiff competition if Serbia are on their game. In Group C, Denmark and Peru will be an intriguing early match-up, while Mexico and Sweden are likely to fight it out for second place in Group F. None of these teams have much of a chance of winning it all, but they should be looking at the round of 16 as a realistic goal.

The Early Exiters

Australia, Costa Rica, Iran, Japan, Panama, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Tunisia
To put it bluntly, these teams have no hope of winning the World Cup, and they will probably be out by the round of 16. Iran are the most talented of them, but their position in a tough group with Spain, Portugal and Morocco means progress is unlikely. Of course, Spain’s issues may leave the door open, but Morocco seem better suited to take the opportunity. The Russians are hosting the event, and of these teams they are most likely to go through. They just aren’t a very good team, however, and they’d do well to get to the second round. Australia and South Korea may just slip past their opposition and take a berth in the knockout stages, while Saudi Arabia could give their campaign a big boost with an opening game win over Russia. Costa Rica will struggle to repeat their quarter-final run of 2014, especially after declining in quality, and Tunisia’s placement alongside Belgium and England is likely to cut short their participation. Japan have plenty of off-field issues, and they will struggle in a tough group. Bringing up the rear is Panama, who are clearly the least-talented team at this tournament and will do well to bring home a point.

Looking through the draw based on my predicted outcomes for each group (with Group B changed to reflect the likelihood of Portugal finishing above Spain), the second round will consist of matches between Uruguay and Spain, Portugal and Egypt, France and Argentina, Croatia and Denmark, Brazil and Mexico, Germany and Switzerland, Belgium and Colombia and Poland and England. With these clashes in mind, Portugal, Croatia, Brazil and Germany should win fairly comfortably. Poland are too good for England, and Belgium should beat Colombia (although a match between the two would be great to watch). France are too good for Argentina, and Uruguay should be too good for Spain, if La Furia Roja even make it that far. According to these results, the quarter-finals will see Uruguay play France, Portugal take on Croatia, Brazil go up against Belgium and Germany face Poland. Once again, Brazil and Germany should be too strong, as should the French. The last match-up is an intriguing one. Croatia are probably more talented than the Portuguese, and would start as favourites, but it would be a close-run affair. In the semis, the Germans would be likely to defeat the Croatians fairly comfortably, although a mouth-watering match-up between France and Brazil shapes as one of the games of the tournament. In the end, I think France’s talent will win out in the end, and I think that Les Bleus will take out the World Cup over the Germans. One thing’s for sure: with the World Cup, you just never know. Right now, with the fun beginning in a little over 12 hours, the whole tournament is a complete mystery. Let’s hope it stays pretty mysterious right to the end.

Predictions

Champions: France
Runners-up: Germany
Third Place: Brazil
Fourth Place: Croatia
Quarter-finals: Belgium, Poland, Portugal, Uruguay
Round of 16: Argentina, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, England, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland
Top scorer: Antoine Griezmann (France)
Golden Ball: Neymar (Brazil)

2018 FIFA World Cup Preview – Group G

Group G

Teams (world ranking in brackets): Belgium (3), Panama (55), Tunisia (21), England (12)
Fixtures:
Belgium vs Panama, Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi
Tunisia vs England, Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
Belgium vs Tunisia, Otkritie Arena, Moscow
England vs Panama, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
England vs Belgium, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
Panama vs Tunisia, Mordovia Arena, Saransk

Belgium

Head Coach: Roberto Martínez
Captain: Eden Hazard
Previous Appearances: 12 (1930, 1934, 1938, 1954, 1970, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2014)
Best Finish: Fourth Place (1986)
Qualified: UEFA, 1st Group H
Qualification Top Scorer: Romelu Lukaku (11)

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), 12. Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), 13. Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg).
Defenders: 2. Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham Hotspur), 3. Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), 4. Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), 5. Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur), 15. Thomas Meunier (Paris Saint-Germain), 20. Dedryck Boyata (Celtic).
Midfielders: 6. Axel Witsel (Tianjin Quanjian), 7. Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City), 8. Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), 11. Yannick Carrasco (Dalian Yifang), 16. Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Mönchengladbach), 17. Youri Tielemans (Monaco), 19. Mousa Dembélé (Tottenham Hotspur), 22. Nacer Chadli (West Bromwich Albion), 23. Leander Dendoncker (Anderlecht).
Forwards: 9. Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), 10. Eden Hazard (Chelsea), 14. Dries Mertens (Napoli), 18. Anton Januzaj (Real Sociedad), 21. Michy Batshuayi (Borussia Dortmund).

Belgium coasted through a simple qualifying group effortlessly, barely breaking a sweat as they progressed with nine wins and a draw. Belgium’s current side, made up of their “golden generation”, is the strongest they’ve ever fielded, with plenty of quality players in every position. Thibaut Courtois is a star goalkeeper, and Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen form a very solid defence. Midfield enforcers Axel Witsel, Mousa Dembélé, Marouane Fellaini and Leander Dendoncker will support a devastating attack that scored 43 goals in qualifying. Romelu Lukaku leads the line, and the powerful striker will receive service from three of Europe’s best in Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens. De Bruyne is arguably the best playmaker in world football, and in conjunction with the silky skills of Hazard and Mertens he could wreak havoc at the World Cup. With Thomas Meunier and Yannick Carrasco providing some quality width and plenty of depth in the squad, Belgium could be a legitimate contender. If they put it all together, they will be formidable.

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Romelu Lukaku (centre) fights for the ball during a qualifier against Greece. Lukaku was Belgium’s top-scorer in qualifying, and he will shoulder most of the scoring burden in Russia.

Despite their undisputed quality, the Belgians haven’t quite put it together in their most recent major tournaments, with quarter-final exits at the World Cup and the Euros a pair of disappointing results for such a talented team. New coach Roberto Martínez brings plenty of tactical nous, but questions remain about whether the players can stand up when required. Defence could be a problem for Belgium, especially with an injury to Kompany which jeopardises the former captain’s participation. The lack of a genuine left-back is also a concern, and although Martínez’s switch to a three-man defence counters that it also means Carrasco, a natural attacker, will have to play a fairly big defensive role. The non-selection of high-octane, high-impact midfielder Radja Nainggolan caused plenty of outrage in Belgium, even if only 23 people showed up to protest it (out of 9000 expected to attend). The distractions caused by this, and the impact of the loss of Nainggolan, could prove costly.

Star Player: Kevin de Bruyne

De Bruyne has always been a classy playmaker, but his work with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City has taken his game to another level. Now sitting deeper in midfield, his incredible vision and his ability to pick out an incisive pass led to a tally of 16 Premier League assists, with many more chances created. If he can work well with Hazard, Mertens and Lukaku it will cause massive headaches for opposing defences.

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Kevin de Bruyne runs with the ball during Belgium’s Euro 2016 quarter-final against Wales. De Bruyne is a classy playmaker, and he has become one of the world’s best midfielders.

Key Player: Jan Vertonghen

In the last few years, Vertonghen and Alderweireld have formed a brilliant defensive partnership with Tottenham Hotspur, and the Belgians will be hoping this carries on in Russia. Vertonghen is versatile and a solid defender, and with Alderweireld missing a large chunk of the season with injuries he stepped up in a big way to lead the Spurs defence. Belgium will be looking for similar defensive steel on the vulnerable left side of defence.

One to watch: Leander Dendoncker

Dendoncker is one of the newest members of the Belgian squad, and the talented youngster could come in handy at the World Cup. He can play in both midfield and defence, and his height and strength will serve him well wherever he is required to slot in. His form with Anderlecht has been excellent, and he could make an impact if given a chance.

Verdict

The Belgians are talented and have plenty of depth, and if they reach their potential they could be good enough to win it all. They won’t face too much early competition, and they will be a formidable opponent.
Likely Team (3-4-2-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Kompany, Vertonghen; Meunier, Witsel, de Bruyne, Carrasco; Hazard, Mertens; Lukaku.

Panama

Head Coach: Hernán Dário Gómez
Captain: Felipe Baloy
Previous Appearances: None
Best Finish: N/A
Qualified: CONCACAF, 3rd
Qualification Top Scorer: Gabriel Torres (3)

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Jaime Penedo (Dinamo Bucureşti), 12. José Calderón (Chorrillo), 22. Álex Rodríguez (San Francisco).
Defenders: 2. Michael Amir Murillo (New York Red Bulls), 3. Harold Cummings (San Jose Earthquakes), 4. Fidel Escobar (New York Red Bulls), 5. Román Torres (Seattle Sounders), 13. Adolfo Machado (Houston Dynamo), 15. Erick Davis (Dunajská Streda), 17. Luis Ovalle (Olimpia), 23. Felipe Baloy (Municipal).
Midfielders: 6. Gabriel Gómez (Atlético Bucaramanga), 8. Édgar Bárcenas (Tapachula), 11. Armando Cooper (Universidad de Chile), 14. Valentin Pimentel (Plaza Amador), 19. Ricardo Ávila (Gent), 20. Aníbal Godoy (San Jose Earthquakes), 21. José Luis Rodríguez (Gent).
Forwards: 7. Blas Pérez (Municipal), 9. Gabriel Torres (Huachipato), 10. Ismael Díaz (Deportivo Fabril), 16. Abdiel Arroyo (Alajuelense), 18. Luis Tejada (Sport Boys).

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Panama’s players and fans celebrate their World Cup qualification, which came on the back of Román Torres’ late winner. Panama had never made it to the tournament before their momentous win over Costa Rica.

Panama qualified for their first ever World Cup on the back of a bit of luck, some good results and a healthy dose of controversy. The equaliser scored by Blas Pérez in their crucial match against Honduras didn’t actually cross the line, but in the absence of video technology the “phantom goal” was allowed to stand before Román Torres stepped up to hand Panama the win. Now they’ve made it, Panama will be looking to show they’re not just making up the numbers, and they have some experienced heads within their team. Goalkeeper Jaime Penedo brings plenty of experience from a 15-year international career, while Román Torres and Felipe Baloy lead an experienced defence. In the middle, Gabriel Gómez and Aníbal Godoy form a strong partnership, with Gómez especially skilled at controlling the tempo of the game. Up front, the experience of Pérez, Gabriel Torres and Luis Tejada and the flair of Abdiel Arroyo, Ismael Díaz and José Luis Rodríguez Los Canaleros could present a challenge for opposing defences.

For all that, Panama will still struggle to make it through against opponents who are much more skilled and have more experience of high-level competition. Barely any of Panama’s squad members play their club football in Europe, with most playing in the lower-level leagues of Central America. The World Cup will be a massive jump in terms of the quality of their opponents, and their first match against Belgium could be a reality check for Hernán Dário Gómez’s side. Panama will come to the World Cup with one of the older sides at the tournament, and many of their key players are well into their thirties and past their prime. Meanwhile, their younger players are coming in with little to no experience of top-level competition, and they may find it tough to adjust to the pressure of the World Cup. The loss of Alberto Quintero to injury is also a blow, as the experienced attacking midfielder is one of their most important players going forward. With no World Cup experience, Panama’s players are facing a baptism of fire, and it’s not clear who will stand up.

Star Player: Román Torres

Torres is a centre-back, but he will forever be known as a hero of Panamanian football for his exploits in attack. It was the experienced defender who scored the late winner that sent Los Canaleros through to Russia, sending all of Panama into raucous celebrations. At the World Cup he will provide his side with solid defence and strong leadership, as well as a handy goal threat at set pieces.

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Gabriel Gómez attempts to control the ball during a 2017 Copa América match with Argentina. Gómez is a quality midfielder who controls the tempo of the game and is a key part of Panama’s team.

Key Player: Gabriel Gómez

Gómez is the conductor of Panama’s team, controlling the game from central midfield and setting up their attacking play while shielding the defence. He works hard, and with over 140 caps at international level he knows how to read the game and set the tone for his side. Gómez’s ability to manage the game from the centre of the park could determine Panama’s success in Russia.

One to watch: José Luis Rodríguez

Rodríguez comes into this World Cup with almost no experience at either club or international level. He has been playing with Belgian side Gent’s second team, and the opponents he will face in Russia are a massive step up from anything he has faced before. He is Panama’s wildcard pick, and if given the opportunity he could make a name for himself.

Verdict

In terms of quality, Panama are nowhere near their competition. They have no players playing in top European leagues, and they are thoroughly outmatched by their opposition in Russia. There’s always room for a fairytale, but such a fairytale seems particularly unlikely for Los Canaleros.
Likely Team (4-4-2): Penedo; Machado, Baloy, R Torres, Ovalle; Cooper, Gómez, Godoy, Bárcenas; Pérez, G Torres.

Tunisia

Head Coach: Nabil Maâloul
Captain: Aymen Mathlouthi
Previous Appearances: 4 (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006)
Best Finish: Group Stage (1978, 1998, 2002, 2006)
Qualified: CAF, 1st Group A
Qualification Top Scorer: Youssef Msakni (3)

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Farouk Ben-Mustapha (Al-Shabab), 16. Aymen Mathlouthi (Al-Batin), 22. Mouez Hassen (Châteauroux).
Defenders: 2. Syam Ben Youssef (Kasımpaşa), 3. Yohan Benalouane (Leicester City), 4. Yassine Meriah (CS Sfaxien), 5. Oussama Haddadi (Dijon), 6. Rami Bedoui (Étoile du Sahel), 11. Dylan Bronn (Gent), 12. Ali Maâloul (Al Ahly), 21. Hamdi Nagguez (Zamalek).
Midfielders: 7. Saîf-Eddine Khaoui (Troyes), 13. Ferjani Sassi (Al-Nassr), 14. Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (Al-Ahli), 17. Ellyes Skhiri (Montpellier), 20. Ghailene Chaalali (Espérance).
Forwards: 8. Fakhreddine Ben Youssef (Al-Ettifaq), 9. Anice Badri (Espérance), 10. Wahbi Khazri (Rennes), 15. Ahmed Khalil (Club Africain), 18. Bassem Srarfi (Nice), 19. Saber Khalifa (Club Africain), 23. Naïm Sliti (Dijon).

Tunisia were the beneficiaries of a fairly soft qualifying group, but it still took until the final day for Nabil Maâloul’s side to seal their spot. Drawn into a difficult group with two tough opponents, Tunisia won’t be favourites to progress, but they have some quality players and could pose a challenge. Wahbi Khazri, Anice Badri, Naïm Sliti and Fakhreddine Ben Youssef form an attack that will be a threat, and Nice young gun Bassem Srarfi could have a big impact coming off the bench. Ghailene Chaalali, Ellyes Skhiri and Ferjani Sassi are all good creators in the middle, and the recovery of defensive midfielder Mohamed Amine Ben Amor is a welcome boost. Down back, Yassine Meriah and Syam Ben Youssef are a strong central defensive pairing, and full-backs Dylan Bronn and Ali Maâloul are both capable players in defence and attack (left-back Maâloul was once the top scorer in the Tunisian league). The Eagles of Carthage are a solid side, and cannot be underestimated.

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Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (left) battles with an opponent during an Africa Cup of Nations clash with Algeria. Ben Amor has recovered from injury in time to play a key midfield role for the Eagles of Carthage.

Unfortunately for them, a combination of an unpleasant draw and injuries to key players means their tournament may not last long. Chaalali, Ben Amor and Khazri have all recovered in time for the World Cup, but they may come in underdone. Even worse, qualification top scorer Youssef Msakni and striker Taha Yassine Khenissi will miss the tournament with their injuries, creating more pressure for Khazri and the rest of the attack. The team’s lack of quality could also come back to bite them. Many of their players have been playing in lower-tier French leagues or other lower-quality competitions, and apart from Khazri very few regularly play against the best in the world. The squad contains 15 players with under 20 international caps, and only captain Aymen Mathlouthi has over 50. This lack of experience at international level, partially borne from the fact that some players have only joined the team since their qualification, could be costly against strong opponents like Belgium and England. If Tunisia want to beat the odds and go through, they will need to fix these problems quickly.

Star Player: Wahbi Khazri

Khazri is Tunisia’s main playmaker, and his skill with the ball at his feet ensures he will be a valuable part of their attack. He is a threat in open play and from set pieces, and he has played himself into form over the course of a strong season with Ligue 1 side Rennes. He comes into the tournament under an injury cloud, but if he hits his best form the Eagles of Carthage will be a dangerous side.

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Wahbi Khazri moves forward with the ball during an Africa Cup of Nations match with Senegal. Khazri is the star of Tunisia’s team, and could have an impact in Russia with his skills.

Key Player: Ghailene Chaalali

Chaalali has only been capped six times for Tunisia, but the 24-year-old has already established himself as a key cog in Nabil Maâloul’s midfield with his ability to create chances and defend solidly. The World Cup is his chance to shine on the big stage, and Tunisia will be relying on him to contribute well in both defence and attack. If he plays well, things will be a lot easier for the Tunisians.

One to watch: Bassem Srarfi

Srarfi is the youngest member of Tunisia’s squad, but he could be one of their most dangerous players. He has been an effective player off the bench for Nice, and the 20-year-old has the pace and skill to be a very potent weapon for the Eagles of Carthage. He is not likely to start, but he will be very exciting coming off the bench late in games.

Verdict

Tunisia have had some unhelpful injuries which could impact their efforts in Russia, and they will struggle to progress from a tough group. They have some skilled players, but it may not be enough.
Likely Team (4-3-3): Mathlouthi; Bronn, Meriah, S Ben Youssef, Maâloul; Sassi, Ben Amor, Chaalali; Badri, Khazri, Sliti.

England

Head Coach: Gareth Southgate
Captain: Harry Kane
Previous Appearances: 14 (1950, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014)
Best Finish: Champions (1966)
Qualified: UEFA, 1st Group G
Qualification Top Scorer: Harry Kane (5)

Squad

Goalkeepers: 1. Jordan Pickford (Everton), 13. Jack Butland (Stoke City), 23. Nick Pope (Burnley).
Defenders: 2. Kyle Walker (Manchester City), 3. Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), 5. John Stones (Manchester City), 6. Harry Maguire (Leicester City), 12. Kieran Trippier (Tottenham Hotspur), 15. Gary Cahill (Chelsea), 16. Phil Jones (Manchester United), 17. Fabian Delph (Manchester City), 18. Ashley Young (Manchester United), 22. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool).
Midfielders: 4. Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), 7. Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), 8. Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), 20. Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur), 21. Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Crystal Palace).
Forwards: 9. Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), 10. Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), 11. Jamie Vardy (Leicester City), 14. Danny Welbeck (Arsenal), 19. Marcus Rashford (Manchester United).

Despite England’s straightforward qualification, the British press has not begun their traditional singing of the Three Lions’ praises before the World Cup. Maybe they were put off by England’s embarrassing elimination from Euro 2016 at the hands of Iceland, or realised that none of their hubristic predictions, dating back to England’s actual World Cup victory in 1966, had ever come good. Either way, the lack of fanfare could be a blessing in disguise for Gareth Southgate’s team, who do have some quality players. Harry Kane is one of the world’s best strikers, and his combination with excitement machines Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard could be very tough to stop. Eric Dier and Jordan Henderson form an effective shield for the defence with their solid midfield play, and Southgate has an abundance of attacking full-backs who can provide width and quality. A back three of Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire could be very hard to break down, and all three are quality ball players who can contribute to the attack.

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Raheem Sterling takes on the defence during a qualifying match against Lithuania. Sterling has immense talent, but he has never found his best form in an English shirt.

They may look solid, but the English will have some issues to deal with if they want to get past the round of 16 and make real inroads at the tournament. Most significantly, they don’t have a goalkeeper. Jordan Pickford will start, but neither he nor his back-up, Jack Butland, have enjoyed brilliant seasons in the Premier League, and the squad’s three keepers have just 12 international caps between them. This inexperience is an issue throughout the squad, with non-starter Gary Cahill the only player with over 50 caps in the 23. Southgate will also need to deal with Sterling, who has attracted plenty of controversy in the lead-up and has not been able to find his devastating Manchester City form when pulling on an English shirt. There is uncertainty as to who is in England’s best team, something Southgate will need to work out. The Three Lions are still likely to progress from a relatively easy group, but these issues could hurt them in the knockouts.

Star Player: Harry Kane

Kane has developed into one of the most dangerous strikers in the world, and his tally of 105 goals in the last four Premier League seasons is a testament to his consistency. He is tall, strong and has excellent skills, and he is the kind of all-round striker England can rely on in Russia. He was appointed captain based on his brilliant performances for club and country, and if that form is on display he will be a force to be reckoned with.

Embed from Getty Images

Harry Kane celebrates after scoring in qualifying against Slovenia. Kane has been named captain for the World Cup, and he will have a chance to showcase his excellent goal-scoring ability.

Key Player: Jordan Henderson

Henderson is coming off a successful season with Liverpool, where he led the club to the final of the Champions League and played a typically influential role in central midfield. He is surrounded by more talented players, but his hard work and willingness to focus on his defensive duties allows him to hold England’s midfield together. If they are going to succeed, they will need him to play well.

One to watch: Trent Alexander-Arnold

Alexander-Arnold is just 19, but he comes into the World Cup in good form and he could make an impact if given the opportunity. Having received his chance at Liverpool after first-choice right-back Nathaniel Clyne went down injured, Alexander-Arnold showed impressive defensive skills and an ability to contribute to attacks with his excellent crosses. He is a set-piece specialist, and with his skillset he could fit in well as one of Southgate’s wing-backs.

Verdict

The English should progress from a relatively simple group, even though they have been known to bomb out spectacularly in the past. In the knockouts, however, it won’t be so straightforward, and their inexperience could come to the fore.
Likely Team (3-4-1-2): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Henderson, Alli, Rose; Lingard; Sterling, Kane.

Prediction

This group seems open-and-shut, but the English have been prone to disappointment and a failure to progress is not out of the question. Belgium’s golden generation should breeze through, and the English, despite their recent history, are good enough to join them. Against Panama and Tunisia, neither of whom come close to their opponents in terms of quality, the two big sides shouldn’t have too many problems, but their clash should be intriguing and could be important in the wider tournament. Tunisia and Panama can’t necessarily be ruled out of contention, and if either side’s defence holds together they could cause a massive upset, but the unfortunate reality for both is that their most meaningful clash is likely to be a consolation game against each other.
1. Belgium, 2. England, 3. Tunisia, 4. Panama

England’s attitude problems and why Allardyce can’t fix them

It’s not official, but it seems almost certain that Sam Allardyce will be the next England manager, ending weeks of speculation as to who would replace Roy Hodgson. The 61 year-old can be counted upon to deliver a defensive solidity that has been sorely lacking in recent years, but the underlying reasons behind England’s failure go far beyond that. There are deeper attitude problems which Allardyce needs to fix if he is to succeed, and he will struggle to do this. This article will lay these problems out on the table, and show why Allardyce is not the best man for the job.

England expect victory, and Allardyce is not a winner
The English are excellent at being pessimistic, and they have a very interesting attitude when it comes to football. Ask an Englishman what they think of their team and they will rattle off problem after problem, finding flaws at every opportunity. Yet they still think England can win, and it means that exiting after the round of 16 is considered a failure. In all reality, England do not underperform at major tournaments. Their expectations are set too high, and as such they treat an otherwise satisfactory conclusion as a grand disappointment, reacting with a weird mixture of resignation and sadness. Allardyce is expected to change the fortunes of the English team, but to do this he will need to move away from the mentality that he has developed during years of relegation battles in the Premier League. This has proven too much for many managers in the past, and unless he can change his tactical outlook to meet the change in expectation he will not succeed.

Allardyce cannot meet England’s tactical needs
England have some excellent players, but they fail to win matches because they do not have a plan. The game against Iceland, where they came up against one of the best tactical sides in the tournament, was a prime example. They lacked a plan when it came to breaking through Iceland’s disciplined 4-4-2 formation, and as such they were unable to overhaul an early deficit. Tactics are not the top priority for Allardyce, and he does not really have a way of breaking through defences. To be fair, Allardyce is better tactically than his predecessor, but since Hodgson had all the tactical nous of a bar of soap that’s not saying much. The long ball tactics that Allardyce used at Sunderland will not work particularly well against minnows who are set up to defend, and they will leave England with no chance of defeating top sides.

England needed a foreign manager, and Allardyce is English
After Hodgson’s disastrous reign the FA could have taken a completely different route. They didn’t. They could have realised that they had no organisation in attack and decided they needed a coach who was able to play in a manner similar to the best sides in the world: sides in which everyone works together and knows their job. Germany, for instance, had a plan. Italy had a plan. England did not. What the English need is a coach who knows how to win, but they have not recognised the fact that there are no English coaches around who can do this. No English coach works outside of Britain, and the ones who work in the Premier League are generally find themselves in relegation battles every season. Yet the FA continue to promote small-time managers to the top job and then expect the team to win the World Cup. The biggest club Hodgson ever managed was Liverpool, a post he was sacked from after six months because his methods didn’t work. Allardyce’s career in coaching has been even smaller, yet he and Hodgson get the job because of their nationality, not because of their qualifications.

In the end, Sam Allardyce is not the right person to bring England the success that they want because he does not know how to win and he has no real plan for breaking down a defence. He will make the defence very solid and he will motivate his side well, but he was not the right man to replace Hodgson. His first test will come when England face Slovakia in early September, their first game of World Cup qualifying. Slovakia will be licking their lips.

Iceland take out England as dream run continues

This knockout stage has seen a number of fairy-tale runs nipped off at the bud, with losses to both of the Irish sides and a big loss to the so-called ‘Magical Magyars’ of Hungary. It looked as if Iceland would be going a similar way for a short period at the Allianz Riviera. The fact that Iceland are even at this tournament is remarkable, and with a population of just over 330,000 people their qualification was greeted with huge celebrations. They came up against Portugal and put in a disciplined performance to hold them to a draw. They would have beaten Hungary but for an 88th minute own goal. Arnor Ingvi Traustason scored with the last kick of the game against Austria to win them the match and send them through to the round of 16 as they claimed second place in their group. There they were to face England, a considerably bigger island nation with a population of just over 54 million. It was a group of players playing in the most profitable league in the world against a team made up of players scattered throughout Scandinavia and the English lower leagues.

Iceland conceded first after they gave away an early penalty. Hannes Halldorsson, who plays for a Norwegian club facing a relegation battle, took out Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling in the box after a good ball from Daniel Sturridge. Wayne Rooney, the English captain, lined up to take the kick, and while Halldorsson dived the right way he could not keep it out. The fairy-tale looked to be coming to a close. Iceland had to find a way to score, and England had them on the back foot.

But, like they have been doing all tournament, they found a way. The ball went out of play in a position not normally considered dangerous. Iceland are not a normal team, however. Aron Gunnarsson, who plays for Cardiff City and is the leader of the Icelandic team, trotted over to take the throw. Up came the centre backs, and Kari Arnason and Ragnar Sigurdsson left their posts to add some height to the attack. Gunnarsson ran back and heaved the ball in to the box, where it found the head of Arnason. The Malmo centre back flicked it on, and Ragnar Sigurdsson found his way into a great position to volley into the bottom corner. Iceland were level again, less than two minutes after going behind.

The game had begun with a flurry of activity, but it began to slow down somewhat. England had some good chances through Tottenham Hotspur pair Dele Alli and Harry Kane, but while they had the supremacy their attack was sluggish and they did not look like breaking through. Then Iceland scored again. They tapped the ball around on the edge of the box while England waited, watching. First Gylfi Sigurdsson, the side’s best player, tapped it to Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, who flicked it on for Kolbeinn Sigthorsson. Sigthorsson had room to shoot, and while Hart got a hand to his attempt he could not stop it from trailing into the back of the net.

England looked desperate, but they were disorganised and were unable to break down the disciplined Icelandic defence. Halldorsson made some great saves, denying Kane when he found his way into a dangerous position and generally cleaning up anything which the defence missed. The Bodo/Glimt goalkeeper was not being forced to do much, however, as the English attack lacked unity and cohesion. This was one of the first times they had played from behind all tournament, and they didn’t like it. They didn’t like it one bit. Iceland could still find some freedom, and Hart was forced to make an excellent save to deny Ragnar Sigurdsson’s bicycle kick, which was well struck from close range. It would have sealed the match for Iceland, but England survived. They kept pushing for an equaliser, but their chances simply failed to materialise. Alli was in a great position to score, but the ball sailed over the goals. Jamie Vardy, brought on far too late by now-departed English manager Roy Hodgson, was played through. He was in a great position, but Ragnar Sigurdsson made a brilliant tackle to stop him. England tried an aerial attack, and Kane had a great chance, but his header was weak and easily collected by Halldorsson.

No matter what England tried it was not going to work. Iceland looked calm and did not panic, while England were the ones feeling the heat. Halldorsson made a mistake when he came out prematurely to Kane’s injury time corner, but Alli bungled the chance with the last touch of the game. The whistle blew, and it was all over. Iceland’s fairy-tale run continues, and they will face the French in the quarter-finals. They are under no more pressure, and their brilliant system could get them a long way.

Nice – Allianz Riviera
England 1 (Rooney 4 pen)
Iceland 2 (R Sigurdsson 6, Sigthorsson 18)
Referee: Damir Skomina (Svn)

England: Hart – Walker, Cahill, Smalling, Rose; Alli, Dier (Wilshere 46), Rooney (Rashford 87); Sturridge, Kane, Sterling (Vardy 60).
Iceland: Halldorsson – Saevarsson, Arnason, R Sigurdsson, Skulason; Gudmundsson, G Sigurdsson, Gunnarsson, B Bjarnason; Sigthorsson (E Bjarnason 77), Bodvarsson (Traustason 89).

Top 5
1. Ragnar Sigurdsson (Iceland)
Sigurdsson had a great game, and he scored the equaliser for Iceland after England failed to deal with a long throw. His defensive work after Iceland took the lead was key, and his brilliant slide tackle on Jamie Vardy stopped England from getting one-on-one with Halldorsson. He nearly scored again after the break with a bicycle kick, and he was clearly the best player on the field.
2. Aron Gunnarsson (Iceland)
Gunnarsson’s long throws proved to be a significant problem for the English defence, who were unable to deal with them. The Icelandic captain was solid in the middle of the park, and he nearly scored on the break when he found himself one-on-one with Hart. He was booked, but he played well and looks to be in good touch.
3. Dele Alli (England)
Alli was able to find plenty of the ball throughout the night, and he was let down by his teammates’ inability to get into good positions. He had some excellent chances, and had his early long-range strike been on target he would have come very close to scoring. He played well, and was England’s best on the night.
4. Birkir Saevarsson (Iceland)
Saevarsson was excellent at right back, stopping plenty of English attacks with his solid tackling. He blocked plenty of shots and crosses, and he was at the top of his game. He had an excellent chance in the second half with his overlapping run down the right-edge, and he was a key factor in Iceland’s solidity at the back.
5. Hannes Halldorsson (Iceland)
Halldorsson gave away an early penalty, and while he was unable to save it he came very close. He made plenty of key saves as Iceland looked to hold on, and his positioning was excellent throughout. He made a minor error as Iceland defended the last corner of the game, but it did not prove to be costly and he will take plenty of confidence from the win.

UEFA Euro 2016 Knockout Stage Preview – England vs Iceland

England vs Iceland, Allianz Riviera, Nice


Match Log

England

England 1 (Dier 73), Russia 1 (V Berezutski 90+2)
England 2 (Vardy 56, Sturridge 90+2), Wales 1 (Bale 42)
Slovakia 0, England 0

Iceland

Portugal 1 (Nani 31), Iceland 1 (B Bjarnason 50)
Iceland 1 (G Sigurdsson 40 pen), Hungary 1 (Saevarsson 88 og)
Iceland 2 (Bodvarsson 18, Traustason 90+4), Austria 1 (Schopf 60)

Team News

England

England have no injury concerns heading into the game against Iceland, but Roy Hodgson is still expected to make five changes to the experimental side that played against Slovakia. Four Spurs players are tipped to return, with Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Dele Alli and the out of form Harry Kane all returning. Wayne Rooney will retake the armband from Gary Cahill after he was rested against Slovakia.
Likely team (4-3-3): Hart – Walker, Cahill, Smalling, Rose; Alli, Dier, Rooney; Lallana, Kane, Sturridge.

Iceland

Lars Lagerback kept his starting line-up the same throughout the group stage, and with no injury or suspension concerns he is unlikely to make any changes ahead of what is the biggest match in Iceland’s footballing history.
Likely team (4-4-2): Halldorsson – Saevarsson, Arnason, R Sigurdsson, Skulason; Gudmundsson, Gunnarsson, G Sigurdsson, B Bjarnason; Bodvarsson, Sigthorsson.

Keys to success

England

The English will not get anything from a disciplined and well-trained Icelandic defence, and they will need to convert their possession and opportunities into goals. They finished second in their group despite three dominant performances, and they will need to find some way of converting their chances if they are to win. Kane has not been in form and was lucky to edge out Jamie Vardy to reclaim his starting spot, and he will need to show how good he is.

Iceland

Iceland are likely to give the English plenty of easy possession, and they will need to hold firm against a side which has the potential to score plenty of goals. England created plenty of opportunities in the group stage thanks to the work of their fullbacks, and Lagerback will need to find a way of preventing them from getting forward. Iceland will also need to find a way of scoring more goals, and will look to involve Gylfi Sigurdsson to try and break the English defence.

Prediction

Iceland are a well-organised, well-trained unit and they will be very hard to break down. The English should dominate possession and have plenty of chances, but they have struggled to take their opportunities in the past. Iceland have no pressure or expectations, and could push England all the way. This game could be headed for a shootout, a situation the English would dread. England 2-1.

England confined to second place after frustrating draw

England have drawn 0-0 with Slovakia in Saint-Etienne, setting up a potential quarter-final with the French at the Stade de France. The English dominated possession and territory and had plenty of excellent chances, but in the end the Slovak defence held firm and kept out Roy Hodgson’s men until the final whistle. Hodgson made six changes to the side that beat the Welsh in England’s second game, and the English had a strong early chance when Jamie Vardy’s flick on header nearly found Daniel Sturridge in an excellent scoring position. Peter Pekarik was able to get to the ball, and Matus Kovacik was able to get both hands on the rebound. Vardy had one of the best chances of the game minutes later, as the English striker was able to outrun Martin Skrtel and found himself one-on-one with Kovacik. The Slovak keeper held firm, however, and he made a strong save to keep England at bay again. The combination of Nathaniel Clyne and Jordan Henderson on the right edge was causing massive problems for Slovakia and creating plenty of chances, but the teams were still level at the break.

The second half began much the same as the first, and while a defensive error from Chris Smalling could have led to a Slovakian goal the English were still on top. Slovakia were finding more chances, however, and Vladimir Weiss came close when he found the ball in space inside the area. His shot had to be saved by Joe Hart, and it looked as if Slovakia could pose a fair challenge. Then the game was turned on its head. Henderson made a nice run down the right wing, and his ball travelled well across goal, past most of Slovakia’s defence and the English attack. Dele Alli had been on the field for seconds, but he found the ball and was in an excellent position to break the deadlock with no keeper to beat. The shot was taken exquisitely, and it was placed with precision, but Skrtel had reacted and flicked the ball over the bar with the outstep of his left foot. It was an incredible piece of defensive work, and the close call changed Slovakia’s outlook. Dusan Svento had already entered the game, and he was soon joined by two more defenders in Norbert Gyomber and Milan Skriniar. England had shot after shot, but they could not trouble Kozacik with enough of their attempts.

They kept pushing. Sturridge was unable to get his foot to a long ball over the defence from midfield, and Kozacik stretched to claim the bouncing ball. They kept pushing. Gary Cahill attempted to find Harry Kane over the top with a header, but he could not get on to it. They kept pushing. Henderson found Kane inside the box, but the header went wide. They kept pushing, but it wasn’t going to be enough as Slovakia held firm to keep the score at 0-0. The draw confined England to second place after Wales won 3-0 in Toulouse, and they need to look very hard to find some more goals. They play again in a week’s time, so those answers will need to come fast.

Saint-Etienne – Stade Geoffroy-Guichard
Slovakia 0
England 0
Referee: Carlos Vellasco Carballo (Esp)

England (4-3-3): Hart – Clyne, Cahill, Smalling, Bertrand; Henderson, Dier, Wilshere (Rooney 56); Lallana (Alli 61), Vardy, Sturridge (Kane 76).
Slovakia (4-3-3): Kozacik – Pekarik, Skrtel, Durica, Hubocan; Kucka, Pecovsky (Gyomber 67), Hamsik; Mak, Duda (Svento 57), Weiss (Skriniar 78).

Top 5
1. Jordan Henderson (England)
Henderson was one of six changes made by Roy Hodgson, and he was very dangerous on the right wing. He created plenty of opportunities with some excellently placed crosses, and the work that he did on the right side of midfield provided the best chances of the game. He combined exceptionally well with Clyne, and will be seriously considered for the knockout stages.
2. Nathaniel Clyne (England)
Clyne dropped off slightly in the second half, but he made a great contribution throughout and created plenty of scoring opportunities with his overlapping runs from right back. He put in some good crosses and even found himself one-on-one with Kozacik, but he was unable to get England the goal they needed. He played well, and should provide good competition for Kyle Walker.
3. Matus Kozacik (Slovakia)
Kozacik had an excellent game in goal, getting into good positions and making some great saves. He beat both Vardy and Clyne one-on-one due to excellent positioning, and he was able to come off his line well to claim the ball on multiple occasions. He had a strong game, and was the main reason that Slovakia were able to keep the game at 0-0.
4. Jamie Vardy (England)
Vardy was picked in the starting line-up after a strong second half performance against Wales, and he picked up where he left off against Slovakia. He created plenty of chances with his pace and his ability to get in behind the defence, and he was a serious threat for the Slovakians. He showed his pace early when he beat Skrtel to the ball in a dangerous position, and he played a strong game.
5. Martin Skrtel (Slovakia)
Skrtel was a rock at the centre of the Slovakian defence, and they would not have come away with a draw if it was not for his brilliant goalmouth save. He provided plenty of experience and brought calmness to the Slovak side, and he showed plenty of leadership in continuing to ward off the English. He played well and will be a steadying presence if Slovakia progress.