Belgium's Roberto Martinez says facing England at World Cup is exciting

Dec 02, 2017, 00:40
Belgium's Roberto Martinez says facing England at World Cup is exciting

"I think we haven't had a clear captaincy figure for a little while and I think we could have jumped into a decision and not given other people the chance to step forward and do the things they've done".

"Without contest they are the favourites in this group". But the links between the teams extend to the dugouts as Belgium are managed by former Swansea, Wigan and Everton boss Roberto Martinez, a man Southgate is used to seeing at games and with whom he once shared a TV studio at the 2012 European Championships.

They will play their first game against Tunisia in Volgograd on 18 June, the fifth day of the tournament.

But Southgate, recalling England's decades of disappointment on the global stage, was wary of Panama, telling the BBC: "We've been good at writing teams off and then getting beat".

"Now it is just down to us to repay the faith that he has put into us".

He added: "It would be easy to say there is a certain round and level but the reality is we don't know". We've got to remember where we are starting from with this group of young players.

"To now have the chance to lead my country into that same game, same fixture, first game of the World Cup, is something I'm hugely proud of".

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

There could be a positive omen, too, in the Panama manager Hernán Darío Gómez having coached Colombia at France 98 when England beat them 2-0 and David Beckham scored a trademark free-kick from 30 yards.

Asked for his memories of that game, he said: "The goal Beckham scored!" Tunisia are a very strong team with the way they qualified.

"We haven't done as much preparing on the African teams yet so now that's what we can focus in on. Panama are learning and trying to progress", he said.

Gareth Southgate's side are in Pot 2 so could potentially be drawn alongside one of Brazil, Argentina or Germany, who are all in Pot 1. We've even dared to look as far as the knockout stages, and at who might end up sending them home.

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