It's finally here. Read on for all the team news, stats and tactical titbits you'll need to look like a bona fide Jermain Jenas down at the pub later.
How Are England Looking?
Following their recent school photo, absolutely immaculate.
— England (@England) June 12, 2018
City duo Kyle Walker and John Stones are nailed on in the back three whilst it remains to be seen who’s won the battle between Gary Cahill and Harry Maguire for the final slot. Cahill offers experience and average distribution whilst Maguire brings a bit more joga bonito and his massive, moon-like cranium to proceedings. I basically don’t care as long as that lumpen oaf Jones remains in some kind of soft play area throughout the tournament.
In midfield, Jordan Henderson’s splendid
new ‘tache exploits in the Champions League knockout stages have seen him edge ahead of Eric Dier for the lone holding role whilst Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard should be the men entrusted with unpicking Tunisia’s low block.
Captain Kane will lead the line. Whilst still not looking quite the same player he was prior to March’s ankle knack, he’s still knobbed in 7 in his last 10 for club and country. In playing in the second last group, there’s hope he’s had time to get back to the physical levels that saw him bunt home a frankly disgusting amount of goals in the first half of the season.
Should things not go to plan, England have what we’re contractually obliged to refer to as ‘options’ off the bench. And by that, I don’t mean that Hot Chocolate your mum buys, but Danny Welbeck’s charmingly aimless enthusiasm.
Can Southgate Walk The Walk?
Having seemingly done everything right off the pitch, the question remains whether Gareth Southgate can do it on it.
From picking a young squad based on form, his savvy handling of our frankly hideous national press and nurturing a squad that seems the most relaxed and positive since 1998, Southgate has quietly impressed in many facets of the job thus far.
Been there done it - Southgate's recent tournament experience as player a notable bonus.
That said, his actual track record on the pitch remains the biggest question mark. Whilst there have been some promising results – victory over Holland and goalless stalemates against Germany and Brazil – he’s yet to conjure a landmark performance from his charges.
One of the few men to have been sacked by the world’s most trigger shy chairman in Steve Gibson, Southgate’s only other showing at a major tournament was finishing bottom of the group at the 2015 U21 European Championships.
In Tunisia and Panama as openers, Southgate’s been blessed with the best possible opportunity to build up a head of steam before England’s crunch match with Belgium on the 28th. Come on Gareth, prove idiots like me gloriously wrong.
How Good Are Tunisia?
Absolutely fine. Whilst there’s little doubt England should be expecting three points against the splendidly named Eagles of Carthage, they’re not quite the out and out whipping boys some may expect of such a small nation with no recognised stars.
Having enjoyed a golden period at the turn of the century – qualifying for three World Cup’s on the bounce and winning the 2004 Cup of Nations – a period of decline set in on the pitch, exacerbated by revolution off it.
Since 2015 though, things have looked up. Tunisia topped a modest qualifying group here and recently enjoyed a 9-game unbeaten run that included wins over World Cup qualifiers Egypt, Iran and Costa Rica, as well as a pair of credible 2-2 draws against Turkey and an admittedly understrength Portugal. Said burst of piping hot form saw them soar up the FIFA rankings to an all-time high of 14th as recently as May, just one place behind Gareth Southgate’s brave boys.
Reasonably well organised in defence, Tunisia’s main problem looks to be locating le sac d'oignon. On the day the tournament started, their squad boasted a piffling 36 international goals between them, the lowest of any party at the finals. A lack of reliable options means Wabhi Khazri operates as a makeshift lone frontman, otherwise failed Reading trialist Ahmed Akaïchi will be the man tasked with putting the willies up Stones and co.
In reality, Tunisia look a modest outfit and England’s feted forwards will be blessed with hearty plates of possession to work with. Frankly, if England don’t put them away with some comfort, maybe it really is time delete ourselves as a footballing entity? F*ck it all off, blow up Wembley and really commit to our sporting energies into weird colonial hangovers like Polo or lawn bowls.
Please don't botch this one lads. I hate chinos.
Who Might You Recognise?
"A bloody nuisance" - International Rescue
Looks more like the baddie from Thunderbirds than anyone on this earth. Aged 31, he’s somewhat depressingly been loafing around in the reserves at Leicester City for a few years now, making made a whopping 1 appearance in the Premier League this season.
I asked the only Leicester fan I know to describe him in one word. He said, 'Rash. Rash and crap.
Fingers crossed his footballing judgment is better than his arithmetic.
The type of player every single fan of a relegated PL club absolutely despises – comfortably the most talented bloke on the pitch but possessing all the fight of an overtired toddler who’s dropped his ice-cream. Sunderland saw the very best and worst of him before a redemptive loan stint at Rennes in the second half of this season. Which version of the man will turn up here?
England’s backline is as northern as pea wet on a chip barm. Of the 10 defenders picked by our Gareth, Ashley Young is the only man not to hail from either Yorkshire or Lancashire.
What does this mean? Beyond them flagging badly in anything above 12 degrees heat and the vague possibility of them communicating via sheepdog whistles out on the pitch, absolutely nothing. As you were.
One win, one draw. Wolves legend Steve Bull salved a 1-1 point in Tunis back in 1990 before Shearer and Scholes put them to the sword in the first game of the 1998 World Cup.
Here’s a reminder of just how ropey US footy coverage used to be.
Where Are You Watching It?