Belgium v Panama Predictions, Betting Tips and Previews
June 14, 2018
Fisht Olympic Stadium - World Cup Group G
Belgium's 'Golden Generation' have another change to prove themselves as they kick-off their World Cup campaign against Panama. Hernán Darío Gómez’s side might be very much the underdogs are defensively organised and will challenge the Red Devils to break them down.
As this summer will be Panama's first experience of World Cup football they have yet to face Belgium, although as their reputation grows, they will be increasingly popular friendly opponents.
A groin injury to Vincent Kompany means that the Manchester City defender is likely to sit out the opening fixture, in the hopes of a return in time to play England. Other than this, Roberto Martinez is likely to play his strongest XI with Lukaku leading the line, in front of a trio of Hazard, Dries Mertens and Yannick Carasco.
It will be a tough decision for Gómez, whether or not to start Román Torres. The centre-back is struggling with a hamstring injury, although is unlikely to improve over the course of the group stage. Without Torres, Panama's back line looks suspect, and will struggle with Lukaku's physicality.
Belgium v Panama Preview and Predictions
Having crashed out of the 2014 World Cup with a quarter-penalty shoot out defeat to the Netherlands, Eden Hazard's Belgium are desperate to make their mark this year. Despite a widely similar squad, Martinez's side have the advantage of playing together over the last four years, which the manager will hope will improve squad cohesion.
Panama, on the other hand, will be aiming to avoid the status as the group's whipping boy for their first World Cup experience. With England and Tunisia to follow, Gómez will certainly have no difficulty motivating his side for their opening game against the hardest opponents.
A recent switch to a 5-4-1 formation is largely attributed to Panama's success in the qualifiers, having provided the defensive platform on which to attack teams. With their star players such as Fidel Escobar, Luis Ovalle and Jaime Penedo all responsible for defensive duties, it comes as no surprise that Gómez will be looking to shut out Belgium on Monday.
This is, of course, easier said than done, as Martinez has been able to add Dries Mertens to an already attacking team. The diminutive forward was the architect of Napoli's impressive campaign this year, and will take some of the impetus off Hazard, who looked overburdened four years ago. In addition to the goalscoring talents of Lukaku, Michy Batshuayi offers a goal-poaching ability, whilst Marouane Fellaini allows the manager the option of route one football.
Regardless of Gómez's tactical nous, Panama will struggle up against the Red Devils attacking prowess.
Romelu Lukaku to score first at 3/1
The powerful forward had an impressive campaign and will provide a target man for Hazard and Mertens to play off.
Over 3.5 goals scored at 7/4
Expect Belgium to start fast to overcome any nerves and pressures.