England can maybe forgive Maradona for hand of God goal

British Airways Picture by: Unknown - Edit By: Stuart Bailey / British Airways

Perhaps it was the advantage of having former England striker Gary Lineker conducting the ceremonies, or Diego Maradona holding up their name from the pot of second seeds.

But England can have no complaints about a draw which boosts their chances of reaching the knock-out stage of the 2018 World Cup.

After ending up in the “‘roup of death’ four years ago in the draw for Brazil 2014, Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions have been given what looks like one of the easier rides in Russia against Belgium, Tunisia and Panama.

England can now maybe forgive Maradona for his ‘hand of God’ goal against them in the 1986 World Cup when he scored with his hand in a 2-1 win in the quarter-finals in Mexico City.

And Lineker – then in the losing England side – could not resist a quip as the Argentina great picked out the plastic balls, remarking that he “has always been good with his hands.”

England went out in a group with Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica – along with the Italians – in Brazil, but now face top-seeded Belgium along with newcomers Panama, ranked 56th in the world, and Tunisia, ranked 27th, in Group G.

A relieved England manager Gareth Southgate told BBC radio: “There was a danger you get someone like a Serbia from pot four, which would have been extremely tough opposition.

“We need to find out more about Tunisia and Panama as we haven’t been tracking them.”

England defeated Tunisia at France 1998 with goals from Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes in Marseille – with Southgate in the side – as they advanced from what was also Group G.

British media were in agreement that England should have enough to progress again, as long as over-confidence doesn’t prove their downfall.

The 1966 world champions will open their campaign against Tunisia in Volgograd, before taking on Panama in Nizhny Novgorod and finally Belgium in Kaliningrad.

Winning the group would give them a meeting against the runners-up of Group H featuring Poland, Senegal, Colombia and Japan. If they come second they would face the Group H winner.

“My experience of tournaments is you need to get a result in all three matches,” Southgate said.

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