Belgium took a big step towards the knockout stages with a 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia on Saturday. Skipper Eden Hazard bagged a brace and Romelu Lukaku also struck twice in the rout to take his World Cup tally up to four.
Gareth Southgate’s England side face the Belgians in the final Group D game on Thursday in Kaliningrad.
Before then however, Southgate says his crop of established Premier League stars have to focus on a Panama side containing products of less glamorous international leagues.
“We been diligent about Panama,” Southgate said. “We’ve looked at all of their qualifying matches and the matches they’ve played after that. It’s an incredible achievement to get through the group they did so they’ll be wounded by that game against Belgium and so they’ll want to respond in the right way. We know that will make it a tough game for us.”
At least England have the chance to advance to the last 16 after their second game. The Germans cannot make the same boast. But at least they have a chance to defend their title. Jorgi Low’s men needed a stoppage time winner from Toni Kroos to see of Sweden on Saturday night.
The Swedes took the lead in the first half when Ola Toivonen lobbed the Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Marco Reus – one of Low’s two midfield changes following the loss to Mexico – levelled just after the pause. And even though they were reduced to 10 men after 82 minutes following Jerome Boateng’s second bookable offence – the Germans piled forward looking for the winner. The Kroos missile from the left punished Sweden’s lack of ambition.
With the prospect of becoming the first Germany manager since 1938 to fail to lead the team to the knockout stages, Low dropped his playmaker Mesut Ozil after a transparent performance in the defeat to Mexico.
With his talisman sacrificed and Sami Khedira also demoted, Low drafted in Marco Reus to operate just behind the main striker Timo Werner and Sebastian Rudy on the right of midfield.
Reus repaid the leap of faith with the equaliser and Rudy brought extra dynamism to the central zones.
Juan Carlos Osorios’s Mexicans are in the driving seat in Group F with six points following their 2-1 win over South Korea on Sunday in Rostov and will be confident of progressing to the last 16 for the seventh consecutive tournament.
To join them, Germany must beat South Korea on 27 June in Kazan and hope that Sweden fail to overwhelm the Mexicans in Ekatarinburg.