England vs Panama: World Cup 2018 Match Preview
England left it late in their opening game of the 2018 World Cup, but Harry Kane’s header in second-half stoppage time brought them all three points against Tunisia. A 2-1 victory was the least the Three Lions deserved after a positive all-round performance, but the manner of their win – coming very late in the day when it looked as if a draw was on the cards – will give Gareth Southgate and his players’ great confidence going forward.
England came flying out of the traps at the Volgograd Arena, creating two or three terrific chances in the first quarter of the match. Jesse Lingard and John Stones were guilty of wastefulness in excellent positions, while Raheem Sterling’s blushes were spared when the linesman’s flag meant his sliced shot from close range did not matter.
England did find the back of the net during that spell, though, Harry Kane turning home a rebound after Stones’ bullet header had been saved. Tunisia may have equalised from the penalty spot before the half-time whistle, but Southgate’s side were largely brilliant in the opening 45 minutes.
Tunisia sank ever deeper after the restart, and England had to remain patient as they searched for a second. They found it tougher to carve out as many clear openings in the second half, which is no surprise given this is a team who thrive in phases of transition, but Kane popped up again late on to nod home the game’s decisive third goal.
That could make a huge difference to England’s prospects in Russia: a draw would have significantly narrowed the margin for error, but Southgate and co. now know that another win on Sunday will almost certainly see them through to the knockout phase.
England should win and over 3.5 goals
Panama’s World Cup debut was an emotional and historic occasion for the nation, and they acquitted themselves well despite losing 3-0 to Belgium. Panama did not disgrace themselves, though, and with a little bit more luck they could easily frustrate England for longer than they managed to hold Belgium with the scores level.
The Canal Men were dogged and resilient in a goalless first half and even offered an intermittent threat of their own on the counter-attack, but they were undone after the break thanks to individual moments of magic from Dries Mertens and Kevin De Bruyne, who delivered an outstanding cross to Romelu Lukaku for the second goal.
Having said that, it would be a major upset if this match ended in anything other than a comfortable England win. The time of the first goal could be key: if Panama are able to dig in for the first half an hour, they could succeed in keeping the final score down, but an early England strike could lead to the floodgates opening.
Given that the Three Lions’ squad is one of the youngest in the competition and Panama’s is one of the oldest, England could overwhelm their opponents from the first whistle. Consider backing a win for Southgate’s side and over 3.5 goals (3.40) in total, while it may also be worth a flutter on the opening goal coming within the first 10 minutes (3.05).
By Greg Lea
After many years of sports writing with emphasis on football, including a stint at Sky Sports, Greg is here to help you with betting tips. Follow him on Twitter @greglea to get the latest updates before placing your bets.