12/1/2017 9:56:11 PM

No fear of England for Tunisia, Panama

No fear of England for Tunisia, Panama

Moscow, Russia: Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul was delighted to be drawn in the same group as England for the 2018 World Cup, insisting that the two teams will fight it out for second place behind Belgium.

Belgium, England, Tunisia and Panama were drawn together in Group G at Friday's ceremony in the Kremlin, with the Belgians the top seeds.

And that makes them the clear favourites in the eyes of Maaloul.

"Without contest they are the favourites in this group. Their coach has an embarrassment of riches," Maaloul said of Roberto Martinez's team.

"They are clearly favourites from what we have seen in recent years, with the coach they have, and then second place I honestly think will be between England and us."

Tunisia and England will meet in their opening game in Volgograd on June 18 -- a repeat of the 1998 World Cup group stage, when England won 2-0 in their first match in Marseille.

"Belgium are the team in the best form just now but I think we can negotiate the match against England. It is the key game for us, and I think if we can get a positive result there we have every chance of qualifying," added the former El Jaish coach.

Tunisia will be based just outside Moscow during the tournament, and their coach is also happy at avoiding playing until the fifth day of the competition.

"That is the most important thing for us. I asked God to avoid putting is in the first group because Ramadan finishes on June 14-15. You know how important it is for us as Muslims."

Beckham's free-kick

Meanwhile, Panama's first ever match at a World Cup finals will come against Belgium in Sochi, also on June 18.

But the matches against Tunisia and England will be particularly evocative for their coach Hernan Dario Gomez.

Now 61, he coached his native Colombia at the 1998 World Cup in France.

They beat Tunisia 1-0 but were eliminated after losing 2-0 to England in Lens, with Darren Anderton putting the English ahead before David Beckham scored a wonderful free-kick.

Asked for his memories of that game, he said: "The goal Beckham scored! They were a very good team, but this team is more humble than them."

"Panama are very happy with this group. We will come up against big teams, strong teams. Panama are learning and trying to progress," he said.

Panama recently held Wales to a 1-1 draw in a Cardiff friendly and Gomez believes that match showed that his team can potentially compete with Gareth Southgate's side.

"I saw their last game against Germany (a 0-0 draw last month), and they are a good side, young, with lots of new faces. We played Wales and they have more or the less the same style."

But asked if he feared any of their players, he quipped: "The only dangerous player is Messi!"

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