Belgium clash with Panama to open Group G play on Monday.
The Belgians are considered one of the best teams at this year’s World Cup, and Roberto Martinez’s team is favoured to top Group G and go through to the knockout stage.
Belgium certainly have the talent to go deep into the tournament and Panama will be their first conquest.
Panama are playing in their first ever World Cup tournament. The Panamanians qualified via CONCACAF which is perceived by many to be one of the two weakest confederations. The team’s players come from a mix of second and third-tier football leagues. Six players of the 23-man roster play in Major League Soccer and the difference in talent will be shocking when the ball is kicked in Sochi. Panama have just four European-based players in their squad. Lacking players familiar with the high intensity of European football will hurt Panama. The level the team is stepping up to cannot be equaled in the team’s friendlies nor in CONCACAF qualifying.
The gap between Belgium and Panama his huge on paper and the match should be quite one-sided. Belgium have quality players both in the starting XI and on the bench that can fill in with no difference shown.
Martinez’s biggest problems will be in deciding which players to put in his starting XI. Romelu Lukaku is assured of the starting striker role. He has 36 goals in 69 matches. Martinez can pair the striker with creative attacking midfielder Eden Hazard to unlock Panama’s untested defence. The pressure on Martinez is high as this could be the last chance Belgium’s golden generation have to win the World Cup.
Belgium cannot win the World Cup in their first match. Yet a poor performance could kill off the team’s hopes of going deep in the competition.
Panama have won just one friendly in 2018. The win came against Trinidad and Tobago in April. Panama drew against Northern Ireland and were beaten by Norway in the build-up to the tournament. Neither of those teams qualified for the tournament. Belgium will put this fixture away early and they will get plenty of goals against a weak Panama team.
- Win: Belgium
- Over 2.5