England manager Gareth Southgate has vowed to take nothing for granted after his side were handed a potentially favourable draw for the 2018 World Cup.
Southgate’s side were drawn to face Belgium, Panama and Tunisia in Group G, avoiding the likes of Argentina, Brazil or Germany from the top seeded nations in Pot 1.
England will face Tunisia in their opening game in Volgograd on June 18, a repeat of their first match of the 1998 World Cup in France in which Southgate featured in a 2-0 win in Marseille.
“It’s the first thing that went through my mind,” said Southgate. “It was a fantastic day as a player to play in a brilliant occasion, an incredible atmosphere our fans made that day. So (it’s) nice to be able to relive that.”
England will then travel to Nizhny Novgorod on June 24 to take on Panama, with their final group fixture against Belgium on June 28 in Kaliningrad.
Panama will be playing in their first World Cup finals, but Southgate is well aware that England were sent packing from the 2016 European Championships by an unfancied Iceland.
We’ve been good at writing teams off and then getting beaten by them haven’t we. We’ve got to make sure we’re prepared for all of those games.England manager, Gareth Southgate
“We’ve been good at writing teams off and then getting beaten by them haven’t we?” he added. “We’ve got to make sure we’re prepared for all of those games.
“It’s fantastically exciting to be here for the draw with every other coach. I’m really looking forward to getting on with it now.
“The objective is to qualify from the group. You’re never quite sure how many points you need for that and there will be ups and downs along the way I’m sure.
“For me personally, to play in a World Cup for my country was an incredible honour. To lead my country there as a manager is beyond that.”
Belgium manager Roberto Martinez knows all about the English game after spells in charge of Swansea, Wigan and Everton and can call upon the likes of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku and Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne.
“It’s a very special draw but it’s about preparation now,” Martinez said. “I think it’s a challenging group in terms of the travelling, probably the most demanding in terms of travelling arrangements.
“Our players are in a very good moment of their careers. Twenty five players are now in the British game so are very well known, players with important roles in important teams who really enjoy coming together and representing their country.”
Elsewhere in the draw, hosts Russia were placed in Group A alongside Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Uruguay, with neighbours Portugal and Spain in Group B with Morocco and Iran.
France, Australia, Peru and Denmark make up Group C, with Group D perhaps the closest to a so-called ‘Group of Death’ as it contains Argentina, Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria.
Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia were drawn in Group E, with defending champions Germany in Group F with Mexico, Sweden and Korea.
Poland, Senegal, Colombia and Japan make up Group H.