England v Panama: Rashford tipped to start as Southgate's side aim for last 16
England are looking to all but guarantee their place in the last 16 of the World Cup when they take on Panama in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday.
Three points for Gareth Southgate's side will secure their spot in the knockouts if Tunisia do not beat Belgium, who lead Group H after the first round of matches after dispatching Panama 3-0.
An injury-time goal from Harry Kane handed the Three Lions their opening victory over Tunisia in Volgograd and they are firm favourites to make it back-to-back successes in their first competitive meeting with Panama.
England's time in Russia has largely gone smoothly but one or two concerns have seeped into Southgate's plans over recent days.
A thigh injury to Dele Alli looks set to keep him out of the match, while a leaked team sheet appeared to show Raheem Sterling would also be left out of the match against Hernan Dario Gomez's side, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek starting in midfield and Marcus Rashford partnering Kane in attack.
150 - Harry Kane's winner against Tunisia was his 150th goal since the start of the 2014/15 season, with 15 of those coming for England and 135 for Spurs. Sensation. #WorldCup #ENG pic.twitter.com/EtdIMh7rvp
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 19, 2018
Southgate, who also suffered a dislocated shoulder this week, admonished the media at their base in Repino after the photo of the team notes emerged, casting something of a shadow over what has been a positive atmosphere among players and reporters that has even resulted in a friendly darts competition.
England struggled to break down Tunisia in the second half of their opening match and there are concerns they could find it similarly tough against a physical Panama side, who offered stout resistance against Belgium in a goalless first half.
However, defender Kyle Walker insisted on Friday that the Central American side are the ones who should be worried, saying: "We know they're a physical team. Tunisia like to play the ball out from the back and were very patient but Panama are probably more direct.
"They need to worry about us more than we have to worry about them. We've men in key areas who can go and get goals at any time. If we keep the ball, keep to the style we've been playing, I think we'll be fine."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
England – Marcus Rashford
Belgium found it tough indeed to break through Panama until Dries Mertens produced a bit of magic, so including Rashford from the start makes perfect sense for England.
The Manchester United forward's pace could be crucial in stretching the defence and giving him and Kane the space they will need in the attacking third.
Panama – Gabriel Gomez
Gomez screened the back four well against Belgium, which would be no easy task for any player, let alone a 34-year-old. He also completed all 46 of his attempted passes in the match.
Aside from his obvious leadership qualities as his country's record caps-holder, Gomez's cool head and clever positioning could be key to halting the forward runs of Jesse Lingard and Loftus-Cheek from midfield, as well as doubling up to stop Kane and Rashford.
— OptaJavier (@OptaJavier) June 18, 2018
KEY OPTA STATS
- England are unbeaten in their last four World Cup games against CONCACAF nations (W2 D2), drawing the last two against USA in 2010 and Costa Rica in 2014. Their only defeat came in 1950 against the United States.
- Panama will be the 38th different nation England have faced at a World Cup – of the previous 37, they have only lost their first meeting against five; USA and Spain in 1950, Uruguay in 1954, Hungary in 1962 and Italy in 1990.
- CONCACAF nations have only won one of their last 10 World Cup meetings against European sides (W1 D3 L6), with Mexico beating Germany in the opening round of matches in this tournament.
- Only twice before have England won both of their opening two games to a World Cup campaign (1982 and 2006).
- Harry Kane has scored both of England's goals so far at World Cup 2018. The last England player to score more goals in the group stages of a World Cup tournament was Gary Lineker in 1986 (3).