FIFA WC: Belgium to face debutant Panama in opener

Moscow: Third-ranked Belgium will look to begin their campaign at the ongoing 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup on a winning note when they square off with fairytale qualifiers Panama in their opening clash in Group G here at the Fisht Stadium on Monday.

A star-studded Belgium side, which feature the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, are heading into the tournament on the back of their impressive results under manager Roberto Martínez.

With Belgium’s recent win coming in during their 4-1 friendly triumph over Costa Rica in Brussels, the Eden Hazard-led side are now unbeaten in 19 matches which is going back to almost two years.

As far as their World Cup statistics are concerned, Belgium are also unbeaten in their last nine group games in the football showpiece event, including clinching their each of the past four.
Additionally, the Belgium side are also yet to lose an opening World Cup match since slumping to defeat against host Mexico 2-1 in 1986.

Going into the tournament, Belgium are favourites to make it to the knockout stage as winners of Group G, despite being drawn alongside 12th ranked England.

Panama, on the other hand, had qualified for their first-ever World Cup appearance after winning just three out of 10 games they played in the last round of CONCACAF qualifying.

They arrived in Russia with a negative goal difference (-1) and after scoring just one goal in their last five matches.

It should be noted that this will be the first time that the two sides will meet each other.
While Belgium will be facing Panama in the second match of the day, the opening match of the day will see 24th ranked Sweden locking horns with South Korea in Group F at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
Sweden, who made it to Russia after thrashing Italy in the play-offs, will look to show that they could perform on the biggest stage without their star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
South Korea, meanwhile, will be hoping to create an upset when they face higher-ranked Sweden in their 2018 FIFA World Cup.

South Korea have two draws and two defeats from their last four matches against Sweden, with their last meeting only coming in 2005.

In the third and final match of the day, England will face Tunisia at the Volgograd Arena.
On a related note, the Belgium and Panama squads are as follows:

Belgium full squad:
Goalkeepers: Koen Casteels , Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld , Dedryck Boyata , Laurent Ciman , Leander Dendoncker , Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen
Midfielders: Yannick Carrasco , Nacer Chadli, Kevin De Bruyne , Mousa Dembele, Marouane Fellaini , Adnan Januzaj , Youri Tielemans, Axel Witsel, Thomas Meunier
Forwards: Michy Batshuayi , Eden Hazard, Thorgan Hazard , Romelu Lukaku , Dries Mertens.

Panama full squad:
Goalkeepers: Jose Calderon , Jaime Penedo, Alex Rodriguez
Defenders: Felipe Baloy , Harold Cummings, Eric Davis , Fidel Escobar, Adolfo Machado, Michael Murillo , Luis Ovalle , Roman Torres.

Midfielders: Edgar Barcenas, Armando Cooper , Anibal Godoy, Gabriel Gomez , Valentin Pimentel, Alberto Quintero, Jose Luis Rodriguez.
Forwards: Abdiel Arroyo , Ismael Diaz , Blas Perez , Luis Tejada , Gabriel Torres .