World Cup: England set for physical test against Panama

Panama's Michael Amir Murillo (right) has shown that his team can time their tackles well, as he did against Belgium's Eden Hazard in their opening encounter. But Panama still chalked up four bookings in that match, plus another for dissent.
Panama's Michael Amir Murillo (right) has shown that his team can time their tackles well, as he did against Belgium's Eden Hazard in their opening encounter. But Panama still chalked up four bookings in that match, plus another for dissent.PHOTO: REUTERS

Southgate prepares Three Lions for Panama side that compete with 'no little aggression'

GROUP G


England v Panama

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REPINO • World Cup challenges come in many forms and, having won their game of patience against Tunisia, England must now pass their physical examination against Panama today.

Gareth Southgate told ITV that Panama "play with no little aggression", and his centre-back Harry Maguire also responded to questions about it.

Whether by accident or design, England got the message out.

"We're fully prepared for a battle on Sunday," said the 1.93m-tall Maguire. "They're going to want it physical but we're more than capable of adapting to that."

  • 18

    Fouls Panama committed against Belgium.

Panama can time their tackles, as Michael Murillo showed late on with a vital challenge on Eden Hazard. But they still committed 18 fouls against Belgium, four of which brought bookings, while there was one more yellow card for dissent. Hazard suffered a buffeting in Sochi.

"Discipline is going to be a big part of the game," added Maguire.

"They might want to frustrate us, make people angry, but we've got to keep our cool and keep calm. If they are continuously fouling us, we can't react in a bad way."

Fouls will give England dead-ball opportunities in a tournament that was dubbed "the World Cup of set-pieces" this week after close to half of the goals came from such situations.

Maguire and John Stones both attacked corners that led to goals for Harry Kane in their opening 2-1 win in Volgograd. And the duo could lend England another dimension in Nizhny Novgorod with their ability to pass or venture into midfield.

Panama are expected to start with a lone striker in Blas Perez and flood the middle of the park, which means England have more incentive to commit defenders forward.

Ultimately, Maguire, 25, is in the team because Southgate wants his centre-halves to play out from the back and he has shown himself to be highly competent with the ball at his feet.

 
 

Victory today will guarantee England's place in the last 16. Racking up goals against Panama, however, could be crucial if the Three Lions are to top Group G.

Highly fancied Belgium soared to the top of the group by easing past the World Cup debutants 3-0 in their opener and backed that performance up with a 5-2 victory over Tunisia yesterday.

Kane saved an inquest into England's profligacy on Monday, with Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard particularly culpable of missing simple chances.

But Marcus Rashford, who is set to start today in place of Sterling, refuted suggestions that England are too dependent on Kane for goals.

"I don't think that's happening in this group," said the Manchester United forward. "(Kane) gets himself in great positions. If we can find him, we will, and, more often than not, he's going to score."

At the back, England have been preparing for the specific Panamanian danger of Adolfo Machado, the Houston Dynamo centre-back, with his long throws.

Roy Hodgson's side were hurt by that tactic in their Euro 2016 clash against Iceland but Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez knows upsetting England will be a tall order.

"They're a very tactical outfit, they recover ball possession very quickly, they speed up play very quickly and have a one-touch approach that is amazing," he said.

"They also have a great deal of depth on the bench. It's going to be our hardest match by far."

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 24, 2018, with the headline 'England set for physical test'. Print Edition | Subscribe