Tunisia v England preview

England’s search for a first World Cup crown since 1966 kicks off on Monday evening with a Group G encounter with Tunisia.

With expectations dampened down for this tournament England head to Russia with a youthful side, lacking experience but possessing a clear identity shaped by Southgate.

England will line up with a back five with an emphasis on passing out from defence while utilising the speed of their attacking players and finishing prowess of Harry Kane.

Southgate said: “You learn lessons from the past, but this team shouldn’t be burdened with it because they’re a fresh group, most of them have very few international caps.

“The future is all ahead of them, so they have to be thinking about what’s possible.”

“The players of the past and opportunities of the past are gone.”

“This team is looking at things in a different way, trying to play in a different way.”

“They have a hunger, a desire, we have better technical players than we’ve had in the past coming through our academies, so there’s a real enthusiasm.”

Southgate broke from his own tradition in revealing his starting line-up to his players on Saturday – and revealed the reasoning behind his decision when meeting the media in Volgograd.

“I think the players pretty much knew the team anyway from the way we work in training,” Southgate said.”

“I just felt it gives some clarity.”

“It’s something that, in a couple of tournaments I played in, the managers did in the week leading up to the first game and I felt it did give everybody the opportunity just to really focus.”

Tunisia and England’s last encounter was in the group stages of the 1998 World Cup.

England won 2-0 in Marseille thanks to goals from Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes.

The North Africans are back at a World Cup for the first time since 2006 after qualifying automatically from their section that included DR Congo, Libya and Guinea.

However, Tunisia have never progressed through a group stage at a World Cup in four previous appearances.

Southgate will be lining up against Tunisian Nabil Maalou in the dugout, who was assistant to Roger Lemerre at the 2006 finals.

The 55-year-old was appointed in March 2017 following the dismissal of Henryk Kasperczak after Tunisia’s dismal showing in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Maaloul believes England’s team spirit under Southgate makes them a superior proposition to the star-studded sides of years gone by.

“It is true that Tunisia played against England in 1998, when they had great players like Beckham and Owen, but there was not the same great collective spirit,” he said.

“I think that this team has progressed enormously.”

“They have young players, the third youngest they’ve sent to a World Cup. Maybe they’ve changed a bit in terms of their mentality, their attitude.”

The weight of pressure on England is often cited as a reason for their underwhelming performances in major tournaments – but they will not be alone in feeling that expectation on Monday night, according to Maaloul.

“There is enormous pressure on our shoulders – we represent Africa and the Arabic world and 12 million Tunisians who are behind us,” he said.

Team news

England’s only injury concern in the build-up to the game, Marcus Rashford, has been back in training since Friday, meaning Gareth Southgate has a full-strength squad to choose from – although he has already picked his starting line-up.

Sunderland midfielder Wahbi Khazri, on loan at Rennes and one of Tunisia’s key men, is likely to be ready to start, albeit perhaps rusty, having not played since suffering a thigh injury two months ago.

Opta stats

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

Tunisia have also kept only one clean sheet in their 12 games at the World Cup (0-0 v West Germany in June 1978).

Since winning their only World Cup in 1966, England have progressed past the quarter-finals only once, doing so in 1990 (fourth place).

England have also topped their group only once in their last five appearances (2006).

England have won only one of their last eight games at the World Cup (D4 L3), a 1-0 victory over Slovenia in June 2010.

They have also never scored more than one goal in their last nine games at the tournament.

England had the joint-best defensive record in the 2018 UEFA World Cup qualifiers alongside Spain, conceding three goals in 10 games.

They were also one of four unbeaten teams, alongside Belgium, Germany and Spain.




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