After requiring an injury-time goal to secure victory in their World Cup opener, England will hope to get the job done a bit earlier when they take on Panama in Nizhniy Novgorod on Sunday (1pm BST, live on BBC1).
England started well against Tunisia, creating danger with some slick moves and went ahead through an early strike from Harry Kane. They lost their way a bit after Tunisia equalised from the penalty spot and seemed to be heading for a draw until Kane’s late, late winner.
The feeling afterwards was more of relief than joy, although it must be noted that on the balance of chances, it was a match that could easily have ended in a comfortable victory for England. Gareth Southgate was quick to point to his side’s dominance of the first half in his post-match statements, while he also praised their patience in seeking the winning goal.
Some of the football in the opening exchanges was excellent, with the movement of the two advanced central midfielders, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard, creating particular havoc. Raheem Sterling was not at his best and missed a clear-cut chance at the far post, but was still bright on occasion. England will have to take better advantage of such spells in future matches.
It was, though, a solid start to their World Cup campaign. If Belgium do, as expected, defeat Tunisia on Saturday, England could even book themselves a place in the last 16 with victory against Panama. Given that they failed to make it out of their group, albeit an admittedly tougher one, in Brazil four years ago, that would represent progress.
Southgate appears likely to stick largely with the same starting XI on Sunday, although there is one probable change. Ruben Loftus-Cheek impressed in his brief cameo off the bench as a replacement for Alli against Tunisia and looks set to start. Alli is still recovering from the thigh strain that forced that substitution and is unlikely to be risked against probably the weakest team in the group.
Panama are actually considered one of the three worst teams at the World Cup by both the ELO and SPI ranking systems, and while they performed fairly competently in their 0-3 defeat to Belgium in their opener, they offered little to suggest they will cause England serious problems. They could frustrate, but they don’t carry much of an attacking threat.
That much is made clear by the fact that they have scored just once, while conceding 11, in their six internationals this calendar year. Their strikers, including the highly experienced Blas Perez and Luis Tejada, Gabriel Torres and young hope Ismael Diaz, all have solid scoring records at their club teams, but there isn’t generally room for more than one of them in the largely defensively aligned national team.
Simply qualifying for the tournament was a huge achievement for Panama. Coach Hernan Dario Gomez had already qualified twice previously, with his native Colombia in 1998 and then Ecuador in 2002, but this is the first time Panama have appeared at a World Cup. If they can avoid embarrassing themselves against England and perhaps nick a positive result against Tunisia in their final match of the group, it will be viewed favourably.
Sunday’s match will be the first-ever encounter between England and Panama. England have a pretty strong record against sides from CONCACAF, with 17 wins from their previous 25 matches against teams from the region. They defeated Costa Rica 2-0 in a warm-up friendly. Mexico and the United States are the only teams to have beaten them.
Our Preview’s England vs. Panama Betting Tips Verdict
England are the clear favourites with the top UK online bookies to secure victory, but it probably won’t be a thrashing. They have only won by more than two goals on two occasions during Southgate’s time in charge, and their most regular winning margin has been a single goal. While their defence is unlikely to be seriously troubled against Panama, neither are they likely to run riot at the other end.
A relatively low-scoring win to nil is the most likely outcome, so these are this preview’s England vs Panama betting tips: