ZELENOGORSK • England assistant manager Steve Holland has apologised to the squad for inadvertently appearing to reveal Gareth Southgate's proposed line-up for tomorrow's World Cup Group G fixture against Panama.
He had been photographed walking onto the training pitch for Thursday's session at Spartak Zelenogorsk's stadium clutching a sheet of paper upon which seemed to be written the starting XI for the game in Nizhny Novgorod.
On it, Southgate's first-choice selection, which included Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, appeared to be detailed in formation with each player's understudy listed underneath.
Although the Football Association was apparently relaxed about the situation, England defender Kyle Walker said that Holland had felt moved to address the squad before their session back in Zelenogorsk yesterday morning.
"It was just before training, just before we went out and did our warm-up," he said. "He gave his apologies and said it was the first time he had messed up in 20 years, which we had a bit of a laugh about because his refereeing skills are not great. It was a bit of banter, we move on and are looking forward to the game now."
Rashford and Loftus-Cheek are, indeed, expected to start against Panama but Walker insisted Southgate had yet to confirm to the players his selection for the second game, when England could potentially secure a place in the knockout phase.
"We don't know the team," he said.
Southgate was critical of the decision to publish photographs of the apparent team sheet.
"Obviously any time, if we were to give the opposition the opportunity of having our team it's a disadvantage to us," he said. "So of course our media has to decide if they want to help the team or not."
Dele Alli, who was listed as "medical" on Holland's paper, continues his rehabilitation from a thigh strain suffered during the win over Tunisia .
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez is glad his side are not making unwanted headlines.
The Red Devils brushed aside Panama 3-0 convincingly on Monday, avoiding the criticism that fellow favourites Germany, Argentina and Brazil faced after their respective openers.
"We do want to be boring," said the Spaniard in his pre-match news conference ahead of today's clash with Tunisia. "We are a football team. We're not here to bring stories or try to fill pages for the wrong reasons. We want to be a group that can find a way to feed all the exceptional individual talent we have."
Their credentials as a genuine outside bet for World Cup success will face a tougher examination against the North African side.
"Tunisia is a team tactically very sharp, it will be really a test for us. We need to be ourselves against them and do even better than what we did against Panama," added Martinez.
Tunisia, who narrowly lost 2-1 to England in their first game, are likely to be far more robust and defensively astute opponents compared to Panama when they meet Belgium at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow today. It will mean the creative acumen of captain Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne will be vital if Belgium are to move closer to the second round and effectively end Tunisia's tournament.
Both Premier League standouts took a while to get going in Monday's match but their obvious ability eventually made the requisite impact.
"The first game at any tournament is always a little tough and the heat also tired us out but after rest we'll be ready to roll again," Chelsea playmaker Hazard said.
De Bruyne set up the second goal for Romelu Lukaku with a characteristically innovative pass and the Manchester City midfielder said on Wednesday he saw that as his primary task at the tournament.
"I have to get the strikers into situations where they can score. If I do that, then I know I'm doing a good job," he told reporters.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS