Uncertain England start as favorites for Tunisia challenge
Volgograd (Russia), June 17 Low on expectations after repeated failures at major football tournaments, a youthful England side will look to start their World Cup campaign on a winning note when they take on Tunisia in a Group G encounter here on Monday.
England are the third youngest team in the tournament and head coach Gareth Southgate has done his utmost to lower the expectations.
After the humiliation of a second round exit at the hands of Iceland in Euro 2016 and their failure to get past group stages in Brazil four years ago, England fans do not have high hopes from Harry Kane and Co.
England don’t boast of big names this time but there is a sense of bonhomie among the players and in Southgate they have a coach who understands them.
Friendly wins over Nigeria and Costa Rica in the tune up to the quadrennial showpiece did no harm to the mood. There is also little, if any, controversy surrounding the squad unlike in previous major meets.
The squad has plenty of attacking talent with Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling expected to start up front with Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli playing behind them.
That means forwards Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy are likely to start on the bench, giving Southgate plenty of options if his chosen strike pair fail to deliver.
The quality is thinner at the back but Southgate is hopeful that players like Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier can turn their club form into solid displays in Russia. Southgate can also bank on the experienced Chelsea defender Gary Cahill (58 caps) and Manchester United’s Ashley Young (33 caps).
Coming to Tunisia, they are playing in their fifth World Cup but they have never got beyond the group stages. Tunisia’s only victory in 12 World Cup campaigns came in 1978 when they saw off Mexico to register the first ever win by an African team on the biggest stage of world football.
The North Africans were unbeaten in their World Cup qualifying campaign but had to overcome anxious moments when they drew 0-0 with strugglers Libya to edge out the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In the warm-up matches played recently, Tunisia defeated Iran and Costa Rica and drew against reigning European champions Portugal while losing 0-1 to Spain.
England and Tunisia met at France 1998 with England winning 2-0 thanks to goals from Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes.
This time, Tunisia’s biggest weakness is the lack of superstars who can lead them to victory.
The squad, dominated by local based players, doesn’t include influential midfielder Youssef Msakni and the Tunisian league’s top scorer Taha Yassine Khenissi, who have both been forced out by injuries.
Defender Syam Ben Youssef is now seen as an important figure in the team as he will have to deal with some of the best attacking talents in the world.
The 1.89m tall player, who plies his trade in the Turkish league, is good at controlling high balls, but if England put the ball behind Tunisia’s defence line, the African outfit could be in trouble.