Tunisia Could Provide a Stern Test for England in World Cup Opener

Tunisia Could Provide a Stern Test for England in World Cup Opener article feature image

England vs. Tunisia, 2 p.m. ET Monday, Fox Sports 1

  • England -213
  • Tunisia +797
  • Draw +341

Bet to Watch

Under 1.5 goals +214 

England begin their group campaign against a Tunisia side that could prove to be a tough nut to crack Monday. It’s certainly far from uncommon for the Three Lions to struggle in their opening match on the biggest stage.

You have to go back to 2006 and the World Cup in Germany to find the last time that England won their opening group game, having failed to do so in the past four major tournaments. (They did not qualify for Euro 2008.) You have to venture even further into the past to find the last time that England scored more than once in their opener, too, and even then — the European Championships in 2000 — they ended up on the wrong end of a 3-2 defeat to Portugal.

In fact, England haven’t won AND scored more than once in their first game since the World Cup in 1998. Their opponents in France 20 years ago? Tunisia …

England’s manager, Gareth Southgate, was at the heart of the defense that kept a clean sheet against the African nation and will be aiming to recreate not only the victory but to do so without conceding. Since taking the reins in unexpected circumstances, the former international centerback has developed a way of playing that may well have taken some inspiration from that side of ’98.

Deploying a back three with the onus on attacking wingbacks to provide width and high-intensity pressing at the right moments, there’s an identity to this England side that previous editions have lacked. Unbeaten in 10 games since a friendly defeat to France more than a year ago now, there’s some optimism ahead of this tournament that a young squad could be a dark horse to reach the latter stages instead of matching the underachievers of so many years gone by.

That said, despite developing under the guidance of Southgate, England remain unconvincing in the margin, if not the manner, of their victories, particularly against so-called “lesser” teams. The 2-0 win over Costa Rica ahead of the tournament was their first win by more than a single goal in nine, and while the defensive record has been strong in that time, with just three goals conceded in their aforementioned 10-game run without defeat, England remain far from prolific.

Their opponents in the late kickoff Monday are no pushovers, either — that’s for sure. Tunisia came through the final group phase of AFCON qualifying without losing, and a 1-0 defeat to Spain in their final warmup game for Russia will have boosted the side’s confidence rather than dented it. It followed draws with Turkey and Portugal, along with wins over fellow World Cup qualifiers Iran and Costa Rica earlier this year.

A strong defensive unit that will sit deep and look to the likes of Wahbi Khazri and Naim Sliti on the counterattack, Nabil Maaloul’s side have the tools to pose England and Belgium problems before the two top seeds in Group G meet in their final game.

As has been the case with a number of the matches in Russia this summer, and is true of any major tournament, opening games are generally cagey affairs, and with Tunisia well aware that they will need a point at the very least against one of the big hitters in the group, this should be no different.

As such, my tip would be on one goal being enough for either side to get off to a winning start, and while England should just about have the edge, the fans can expect another nervous start to a tournament campaign.

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