Tunisia vs. England: Three Lions must set right tone and not fall into trap

England kick off their World Cup campaign against Tunisia. With Belgium also in Group G, Gareth Southgate's men can't afford any opening slip-ups.

Ed Dove (Tunisia) and Liam Twomey (England) look ahead to the clash at the Volgograd Arena.

What's at stake?

ED: With England and Belgium in their first two matches, Tunisia have their work cut out not just to progress but to keep their campaign alive until their final game against Panama.

As such, they'll be desperate not to lose their opener, and will play to their strengths -- the grit and resiliency that have long characterised the Tunisian game -- as they look to bridge the gap in individual quality.

However, England mustn't underestimate the Carthage Eagles, who boast the organisational qualities to stymie their more illustrious opponents while offering a cutting edge going forward despite the absent duo of Yassine Taha Khenissi and Youssef Msakni.

LT: This is arguably the most important match of England's group stage. Everyone expects a comfortable win against Panama, so the Tunisia result will likely determine how much pressure Gareth Southgate's men will be under heading into their final game against Group G favourites Belgium.

Having said that, the nature of England's performance is almost as important as whether or not they win. Southgate has managed to create an atmosphere of quiet optimism inside and outside the camp heading into this World Cup, but all of his good work will be undone if his players put on the kind of slow, passive display that has characterised recent tournament failures.

Key battle

ED: Dele Alli vs. Mohamed Amine Ben Amor

One senses that midfield will be a key battleground, with Tunisia looking to disrupt and spoil England's play, while Gareth Southgate's side will be keen to establish a rhythm and set the tempo as they have done in recent friendlies.

Ben Amor is the most defensive of an excellent three-man midfield unit for the Carthage Eagles, and while he's more poised than the dynamic Ghaylen Chaalali, he'll be key in establishing the defensive shape and negating England's danger from midfield.

Chief among his concerns may well be Alli, whose understanding with Harry Kane has the potential to secure all three points for England.

LT: Jordan Henderson vs Mohamed Amine Ben Amor

Southgate's boldest tactical decision as England manager is his commitment to fielding just one holding midfielder at this World Cup. It is likely to be Henderson, who is a superior athlete to Eric Dier as well as possessing a similar passing range and tactical intelligence.

Tunisia are likely to start with at least two and possibly three central midfielders, marshalled by the elegant Ben Amor. There is a risk of Henderson being swarmed by greater numbers in the middle if he is anything below his best and England's shuttling No. 8s do not provide adequate support.

Star man

ED: Wahbi Khazri

He may have struggled at Sunderland, where he'd argue he wasn't given enough of an opportunity to impress, but Khazri is a touch of stardust in this Tunisia side.

He isn't scared of attempting the audacious as he looks to beat his man, and his technical prowess means he typically succeeds in getting the better of his opponents.

The 27-year-old is also a threat from set pieces, and after a fine campaign on loan at Stade Rennais -- he scored nine goals -- Khazri enters the tournament in fine form.

LT: Harry Kane

Kane is England's one world class talent in the final third, and their success in this game likely depends on finding ways to shake him free of Tunisian defenders in areas where he can either go for goal himself or find open teammates.

Southgate's system allows Kane to drop into a false nine position while the likes of Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard run ahead of him, and it will be interesting to see whether Ben Youssef or defensive partner Yassine Meriah push up to track the England captain's movements or stay deep and maintain their line.

Big threat

ED: Raheem Sterling

Tunisia obviously must be wary of Kane, who's coming off the back of another goal-laden season in the Premier League. But Sterling is the England player most likely to trouble them.

The Carthage Eagles are short of top-level experience in the heart of their defence, with Leicester City's Yohan Benalouane drafted into the fold ahead of the tournament in order to boost the defensive quality. That in itself is demonstrative of the paucity of options.

Yassine Meriah, Rami Bedoui and Syam Ben Youssef are decent stoppers, but they're vulnerable to pace, and if England can ensure Sterling is well supplied, he can wreak havoc in behind.

LT: Wahbi Khazri

Khazri is one of the few names in the Tunisia team that England players will recognise, thanks to a couple of spectacular goals he scored in a Sunderland team sliding towards relegation from the Premier League in 2016 and 2017. Now on loan at Rennes, he remains capable of the spectacular and his set-piece deliveries may represent the best chance of an upset in Volgograd.

Lille winger Naim Sliti will also be on Southgate's radar after an impressive Ligue 1 campaign on loan at Dijon, but England expect Tunisia to do much more defending than attacking.


ED: Tunisia 0-1 England

England ought to have the quality to down the North Africans, but the spectre of that defeat by Iceland at Euro 2016 -- when they ran out of options after being stifled -- looms large. Still, England have done enough during the pre-tournament friendlies to suggest that they can start the tournament strongly, and if they begin this match well, they should run out victors.

LT: Tunisia 0-2 England

The breakthrough may take a while to arrive, but England's superior firepower should be felt later in the second half as Tunisia tire.