Paul Merson's World Cup predictions: How will England fare in opener?
Last Updated: 18/06/18 9:00am
With the World Cup in full swing, Paul Merson is here to give us his predictions for the opening round of group-stage fixtures.
England begin their tournament against Tunisia on Monday evening when Gareth Southgate's side will be desperate to get off to a winning start.
However, who has the former Arsenal and England forward backed to come out on top in Volgograd?
Read on to find out his prediction for that encounter, as well as the other opening group matches…
Sweden v South Korea (Monday 1pm, Group F)
South Korea have not had great results leading up to the tournament and so I am going for Sweden to edge this one. It will be a tight game and one probably typical of an opening group clash at the World Cup. These two teams cannot afford to lose this match, so it will be cagey and if you are going to go for anything, then you would go for under 2.5 goals.
Belgium v Panama (Monday 4pm, Group G)
How many do Belgium want to win by is the question and it could go down to the goal difference in this group. If you look at it, England will win their two games, as will Belgium, with their meeting ending in a draw. So it will be whoever scores the most that tops the group. Panama, meanwhile, are very, very weak. They have done great to qualify with a goal that was not a goal, but I will go for Belgium as I think Panama could be the weakest team in the tournament, even if their ranking does not say so. And I think they are the whipping boys at the World Cup.
Tunisia v England (Monday, 7pm, Group G)
This will be a hard game for England, let me tell you. Tunisia were very comfortable in their recent friendly with Spain, and I can almost see a Belgium or an England player getting sent off against them as they will frustrate them and are better than people think. If they had counter-attacked Spain just that little bit better and had a better final pass, then they would have upset them. They will sit back and you could get to 20-25 minutes in and not score, with a young England team, the crowd will start getting restless and it becomes a bit of a worry for me.
The only thing that has done us a favour is that they only got beaten 1-0 by Spain and so people will now look at the game and think it could be hard as they do keep the ball well, they are very well drilled and they will frustrate England. But, despite them being a young team, I am just going to go for England in a nervy game. But if there is no early goal, then the longer this game goes on the more worried you will get…
Colombia v Japan (Tuesday 1pm, Group H)
I quite like Colombia, I think they will do OK, and this is the group England are set to meet in the second round. So it all depends how that works out. But I think Colombia will win this one, they are a decent team, they came second behind Brazil in South American qualifying - which is a big thing over so many games - and that is why I am backing them to win this one.
Poland v Senegal (Tuesday 4pm, Group H)
Poland striker Robert Lewandowski is a massive price to get top goal scorer, but the only problem is he is probably just going to play four games. This is a hard game, though, so I am going to go for a 1-1 draw - this is another one of those games that neither side can afford to lose as they will probably then be out. So you take a draw here, beat Japan, take a draw against Colombia and then take it from there.