England handed favourable World Cup draw

The England football team will play Belgium, Tunisia and Panama in their World Cup group after they were handed a favourable draw for next year’s tournament in Russia.

Gareth Southgate’s team avoided the likes of Argentina, Brazil and Germany and will play their opening match against Tunisia on Monday 18 June (7pm).

The Three Lions then face Panama on Sunday 24 June (1pm) before taking on Belgium on Thursday 28 June (7pm).

England manager Gareth Southgate and his Belgium counterpart Roberto Martinez joke together after their teams are drawn in the same World Cup group

Image: England manager Gareth Southgate and his Belgium counterpart Roberto Martinez

Hosts Russia will play Saudi Arabia in the opening match of the World Cup at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on 14 June.

Spain, the 2010 World Cup winners, will play Portugal, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, after they were drawn in a group along with Morocco and Iran.

Holders Germany were drawn with Mexico, Sweden and South Korea while five-times winners Brazil will play Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia.

Lionel Messi’s Argentina side will take on Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria. France were drawn with Australia, Peru and Denmark.

England have never lost to Belgium at a major tournament and have only lost one of their 21 matches against them.

Harry Kane celebrates scoring against Slovenia

Image: England striker Harry Kane will hope to play in the opening match against Tunisia

But Belgium’s current team, managed by Roberto Martinez, have been hailed as a “golden generation” with a wealth of Premier League talent including Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen.

After the draw, England full back Kyle Walker tweeted a photo of himself spitting out water, with the caption: “When you find out you gotta play @DeBruyneKev and @VincentKompany #WorldCupDraw #WC2018.”

Sky Sports News’ chief reporter Bryan Swanson said England will travel around 4,000 miles for their three matches in Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod and Kaliningrad respectively.

“What it does mean is that they have avoided Moscow and St Petersburg, the big cities in the group stage,” he said.

“They could have had it easier, but they could have had it a lot worse. They don’t, for example, have to do that 2,500-mile round trip to Ekaterinburg.”

If England make the last 16, they will meet Poland, Senegal, Colombia or Japan on 2 July or 3 July.

Russian President Vladimir Putin formally opened the draw ceremony at the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow, which was attended by football greats Pele and Diego Maradona.

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“We will do everything to make it a major sporting festival,” Mr Putin said, adding that the event would be a World Cup of “friendship and fair play”.

The 2018 tournament takes place in 12 stadiums across Russia between 14 June and 15 July.