England kick-off their World Cup campaign in Volgograd on Monday night, hoping this is the tournament they end 52 years of hurt.
Few are expecting Gareth Southgate’s men to do so – but reduced expectations could take the pressure of a young and talented squad.
Tunisia are first up for the Three Lions – our football expert has picked out his best world cup bets for the opening game.
In-form Three Lions come in with confidence
England come into the World Cup in good form – having been unbeaten in their last 10 matches, and having conceded just three times in that spell.
Southgate’s switch to three at the back has given more flexibility for his side in attack – especially against sides who set up to defend against the Three Lions.
He has picked one of the youngest England squads ever – and the third youngest in Russia – and the stage is set for the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling to stamp their mark on the world stage.
While he may favour two defensive midfielders against the big boys, it’s likely Southgate will go in with just one of Jordan Henderson or Eric Dier – meaning there’s room for Alli and Jesse Lingard to support Kane and Sterling in unlocking the Tunisia defence.
England are favourites here – 2/5 with Grosvenorsport.com to open up with a win.
Tunisia a step into the unknown
Despite qualifying from the African section with ease, Tunisia are one of the lesser known sides at the tournament, with none of their players plying their trade at the pinnacle of European football.
Perhaps the most high-profile is captain Wahbi Khazri – who has played in the Premier League for Sunderland (though spent last season on loan at Rennes), while Yohan Benalouane has made 16 appearances in three seasons at Leicester.
The majority of the squad are from African or Asian clubs – but that lack of knowledge from the average fan doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a pushover.
They held Portugal to a 2-2 draw last month, and were only defeated by an 84th minute winner in a 1-0 reverse to Spain last week.
Tunisia will sit deep and make it difficult for England, before hoping to nick something on the break.
They are 15/2 to get their first World Cup win since 1978, while the draw is 17/5.
England to kick off their World Cup campaign with a win
Southgate played in defence on the only occasion England have faced Tunisia – a 2-0 World Cup win in the opening match of the 1998 tournament.
20 years on, I can see a similar result this time around.
England’s defence should be too firm, and their attack too strong, for any upset here. I suggest backing England to win to nil at 2/1.
Kane has eight goals in his last seven appearances for the Three Lions, and the skipper will be hoping to keep up his form in this one.
Like in 1998, where captain Alan Shearer opened the scoring, I can see England’s talisman doing the same this time around.
Back Kane to score first at 3/1.
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