Today at the World Cup: Monday June 18 England, Belgium and Sweden play their first matches of the tournament

England get their World Cup campaign underway on Monday while Belgium and Sweden are also in action.

Gareth Southgate’s side face Tunisia in their opening Group G game at the Volgograd Arena.

That is the final match of the day, with Sweden taking on South Korea in Group F and then Belgium facing Panama in Group G in Sochi.

Each morning during the tournament we’ll bring you an overview of what’s coming up that day. Here’s what you can expect on Monday at the 2018 World Cup…

World Cup fixtures
World Cup venues

Who’s playing today?

Sweden v South Korea (Group F) – Nizhny Novgorod, 1pm

Belgium v Panama (Group G) – Sochi, 4pm

England v Tunisia (Group G) – Volgograd, 7pm

What’s the deal?

After a strong qualifying campaign and some encouraging performances in the warm-up games, it’s time for England to get down to business.

The Three Lions have not lost a match for over a year but they have failed to deliver on recent appearances at major tournaments, including finishing bottom of their group in 2014.

The last time England faced Tunisia was in their opening game at the World Cup in 1998 when Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes scored in a 2-0 win. Tunisia are appearing in their fifth World Cup finals but have only won one match – their first, against Mexico in 1978.

With England and Belgium expected to battle for the top two places in Group G, their games against Tunisia and Panama – and how many goals they can score – could prove important in deciding who finishes top of the group.

Roberto Martinez’s Belgium are among the teams expected to challenge at the World Cup and they start as strong favourites to beat Panama, who have never qualified for the competition before.

The first game of the day could prove significant for Sweden and South Korea as they look to qualify ahead of either Germany or Mexico in Group F.

Merson’s predictions

Sweden v South Korea

South Korea have not had great results leading up to the tournament and so I am going for Sweden to edge this one. It will be a tight game and one probably typical of an opening group clash at the World Cup. These two teams cannot afford to lose this match, so it will be cagey and if you are going to go for anything, then you would go for under 2.5 goals.


Belgium v Panama

How many do Belgium want to win by is the question and it could go down to the goal difference in this group. If you look at it, England will win their two games, as will Belgium, with their meeting ending in a draw. So it will be whoever scores the most that tops the group. Panama, meanwhile, are very, very weak. They have done great to qualify with a goal that was not a goal, but I will go for Belgium as I think Panama could be the weakest team in the tournament, even if their ranking does not say so. And I think they are the whipping boys at the World Cup.


Tunisia v England

This will be a hard game for England, let me tell you. Tunisia were very comfortable in their recent friendly with Spain, and I can almost see a Belgium or an England player getting sent off against them as they will frustrate them and are better than people think. If they had counter-attacked Spain just that little bit better and had a better final pass, then they would have upset them. They will sit back and you could get to 20-25 minutes in and not score, with a young England team, the crowd will start getting restless and it becomes a bit of a worry for me.

The only thing that has done us a favour is that they only got beaten 1-0 by Spain and so people will now look at the game and think it could be hard as they do keep the ball well, they are very well drilled and they will frustrate England. But, despite them being a young team, I am just going to go for England in a nervy game. But if there is no early goal, then the longer this game goes on the more worried you will get…


Three to watch

Jesse Lingard: It looks as though Lingard is set to start in midfield for England as they target a win against Tunisia. The 25-year-old has enjoyed a decent season with Manchester United and has said that England will play without “fear” at the World Cup. Against a Tunisia side who could defend deep and slow the tempo, England might need something creative from Lingard or Dele Alli to help break the deadlock.

Romelu Lukaku: If Belgium are going to deliver on their potential this summer then surely Lukaku will need to have a good tournament. The Manchester United striker has only scored three goals previously at international tournaments. However, he has warmed up for the World Cup by netting eight goals in his last six games for Belgium and has the chance to hit the ground running against minnows Panama and then Tunisia, before a tougher-looking game against England to finish the group.

Belgium will look to Man Utd striker Romelu Lukaku for goals against Panama
Belgium will look to Man Utd striker Romelu Lukaku for goals against Panama

Emil Forsberg: With no Zlatan Ibrahimovic these days, Sweden will need to look elsewhere for an x-factor. Forsberg has inherited Ibrahimovic’s No 10 shirt and he will be a key player for Janne Andersson’s side, who failed to score in their final three warm-up matches. Currently playing for RB Leipzig, Forsberg has been linked with a potential move to Arsenal and his stock is likely to rise if he impresses this summer.

Also look out for…

More animals making predictions

A sausage dog, called R2D2, will be in the Sky Sports News studio to predict who will score England’s first goal of the World Cup (12.15pm). Not only that, but there will also be a visit to Whipsnade Zoo (10.30am) to see Snow White the Bear predict who will win England’s opening Group G clash with Tunisia on Monday night.

Spygate at Nizhny Novgorod

Sweden and South Korea meet with the Scandinavian’s coach Janne Andersson having to play down a spying row ahead of the clash in Nizhny Novgorod.

One of the Andersson’s coaching staff attended a Korea training session during their pre-tournament preparation camp in Austria and was asked to leave. The Sweden boss insists this was a simple misunderstanding as they had thought the session was open to the public.

The matter does not seem to have fazed Korea coach Shin Taeyong, although he admits attempting to confuse onlookers at recent sessions by switching player numbers!

So it will be interesting to see if that controversy has any impact on the outcome of this Group F contest.

Panama’s World Cup bow

Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez is not in the business of sugarcoating the truth.

Ahead of his team’s historic World Cup debut, Gomez admits Panama have had trouble scoring and says they will need a good day to have any chance against Belgium.

Asked if Panama could match Iceland’s draw with Argentina on Saturday, Gomez didn’t bother mixing his words, claiming that “Argentina is not at the same level as Belgium right now”.

Panama manager Hernan Dario Gomez sees his side make their World Cup debut against Belgium
Panama manager Hernan Dario Gomez sees his side make their World Cup debut against Belgium

Stat of the day

England have never lost against an African team at the World Cup (W3 D3), keeping five clean sheets in six games.

On this day

Co-hosts South Korea famously beat Italy 2-1 in last-16 of the 2002 World Cup thanks to Ahn Jung-hwan’s Golden Goal winner in Daejeon.

What the papers say

Ahead of Germany’s World Cup opener with Mexico on Sunday afternoon, newspaper Die Welt had rather boldly ran a front page headline saying: ‘”Sorry, Mexico. Today WE build the wall!’

However, it was Mexico who ended up having the last laugh after they stunned the world champions with a brilliant 1-0 victory in Moscow.


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