A look at the teams in Group G of the 2018 World Cup in Russia:


FIFA world ranking: 3

Last World Cup: 2014

Best World Cup finish: Fourth place, 1986

How qualified: Won European qualifying group.

Key players: MF Kevin De Bruyne, F Romelu Lukaku, F Eden Hazard

It's a fact: Belgium averaged a tournament-best 4.3 goals a game in the final round of UEFA World Cup qualifying, compiling a goal differential of plus-37.

The skinny: Lukaku, Hazard, Dries Mertens and De Bruyne give Belgium arguably the best attacking foursome in the world. But while Belgium could lead the World Cup in scoring, there's also a good chance it could wash out again in the quarterfinals as it did four years ago in Brazil and two years ago in the Euros. Getting more from this talented but underperforming group is what Roberto Martinez was tasked with when he was hired to replace Marc Wilmots as coach in the wake of the Euro disaster.


FIFA world ranking: 12

Last World Cup: 2014

Best World Cup finish: Champions, 1966.

Key players: F Harry Kane, D John Stones, MF Dele Ali.

How qualified: Won European qualifying group.

It's a fact: England is the only World Cup team made up exclusively of players from domestic clubs.

The skinny: England didn't win a game four years ago in Brazil, only the second time that's even happened in a World Cup tournament, so the bar for improvement isn't high. But fans back home are looking for a lot more than that from a team that hasn't gotten past the quarterfinals of a major tournament since the European Championships 22 years ago. If Kane is over his ankle injury, the Three Lions can score, but the loss of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to a knee injury, question marks in goal, and the lack of consistent center back for coach Gareth Southgate's favored 3-5-2 formation point to another early exit.


FIFA world ranking: 55

Last World Cup: First appearance

Best World Cup finish: First appearance

How qualified: Finished third in CONCACAF qualifying tournament.

Key players: GK Jamie Penedo, D Roman Torres, MF Anibal Godoy.

It's a fact: Only one World Cup debutante - Costa Rica in 1990 - made it out of the group stage.

The skinny: Panama's defensive posture is more akin to street fighting than soccer - just ask Christian Pulisic, whose body is still bruised. But it's also effective. Panama will sometimes start five on the backline, sacrificing offense for defense - only Trinidad and Tobago scored fewer goals in the final round of qualifying than Panama - while trying to foul and frustrate opponents in providing opportunities on the counterattack. Panama's core is old and inexperienced on the world stage, but if former Galaxy keeper Penedo is on, he could help his team defy expectations and sneak into the knockout stage.


FIFA world ranking: 21

Last World Cup: 2006

Best World Cup finish: Group stage, 2006, 2002, 1998, 1978

How qualified: Won African qualifying group.

Key players: MF Wahbi Khazri, GK Aymen Mathlouthi, MF Naim Sliti

It's a fact: Tunisia is one of six predominantly Muslim nations at the 2018 World Cup, meaning many of its players will be observing Ramadan calls for daylight fasting through June 14, four days before the team's first game.

The skinny: Tunisia's best chance for making noise in Russia was silenced when forward Youssef Msakni tore a knee ligament in April, leaving the Africans without their most creative player and leading active goal-scorer. Without a dynamic playmaker, Tunisia, unbeaten in the final round of qualifying, will likely look to set pieces to produce some offense. But at least that's something tangible because the other thing Africa's highest-ranked team will lean on in Russia is an intangible: fighting spirit. That worked in qualifying, when Tunisia twice rallied from deficits to win.


June 18: Belgium vs. Panama in Sochi; Tunisia vs. England in Volgograd.

June 23: Belgium vs. Tunisia in Moscow; England vs. Panama in Nizhny Novgorod.

June 28: England vs. Belgium in Kaliningrad; Panama vs. Tunisia in Saransk.

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