Youthful England's World Cup adventure begins
A youthful England begin their Russian World Cup adventure against Tunisia in Volvograd tonight (7pm) with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
With manager Gareth Southgate boldly choosing to go with youth, for once expectations will not be weighing as heavily as in past tournaments.
More experienced England sides have let themselves down so often in major tournaments.
But Southgate said: “You learn lessons from the past, but this team shouldn’t be burdened with it because they’re a fresh group.
“Most of them have very few international caps. The future is all ahead of them, so they have to be thinking about what’s possible.
“The players of the past and opportunities of the past are gone. This team is looking at things in a different way, trying to play in a different way.
“They have a hunger, a desire, we have better technical players than we’ve had in the past coming through our academies, so there’s a real enthusiasm.
“It is another game of football, on a pitch the size that these boys have played on all their lives and we have to prepare them that way.”
With Panama and Belgium the other two countries in Group G, hopes are high that England can at least reach the knockout stage.
However, Southgate believes this is one of the World Cup’s toughest groups.
He said: “When the draw was made, everyone had this perception that it was the easiest group.
“I would argue it is one of the most difficult with ourselves, Tunisia and, of course, Belgium, in terms of the FIFA world rankings.”
England have failed to win an opening group game at a major tournament since beating Paraguay at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Tunisia and England’s last meeting was in the 1998 World Cup group stages when England won 2-0 in Marseille.
Back in a World Cup for the first time since 2006, England’s opponents have never progressed through a group stage at a World Cup in four previous appearances.
But Southgate will give them absolute respect. He said: “For every opponent, we would prepare exactly the same - not to flood the players with information about the opposition. I think we’ve done the same with Tunisia as we would for Brazil.
“We’ve highlighted their style of play. We’ve highlighted the areas we feel we can exploit. They are a good team. They like to play.
“I like their coach’s ideas. They’re very organised. They like to play from the back. Their organisation against Spain was excellent and this is a big test for us.”
Breaking from his own tradition, Southgate has already told his players who will start the match.
“I think the players pretty much knew the team anyway from the way we work in training,” he said. “I just felt it gives some clarity. It’s something that, in the couple of tournaments I played in, the managers did in the week leading up to the first game and I felt it did give everybody the opportunity just to really focus.”
Everton’s Jordan Pickford is expected to start in goal with Jordan Henderson edging out Eric Dier in midfield, leaving room for both Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard.