England’s hopes of success at this summer’s World Cup could be derailed by a huge amount of travelling during the opening stage of the tournament.
A group containing Belgium, Tunisia and Panama should hold no fears for the Three Lions, but the 6,542km they will cover during the first round could prove to be their undoing.
At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, just five of the 13 teams that travelled further than the average distance in the group stage advanced to the knockout rounds. Of those, only Costa Rica made it to the quarter-finals.
With England based in the northern town of Repino for the group stage, Gareth Southgate’s side will travel 1,253km further than the average round trip but it would be a major disappointment if that prevented them from making progress.
Belgium are many people’s favourites to win the group, although there are reasons to believe England can defeat them on June 28.
The likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard will be a handful for most teams, and they can be expected to create plenty of chances for striker Romelu Lukaku.
However, Manchester United’s big-money buy has been struggling with an injury and with England’s defence familiar with his style of play they will believe they can keep him quiet.
Belgium boss Roberto Martinez usually adopts an attacking 3-4-3 formation and if England’s wing-backs can exploit the wide areas they could easily win the game.
England will head into the fixture against Belgium having already faced Tunisia and Panama. Tunisia topped their group during the final qualification stage in Africa and recent friendly victories over Iran and Costa Rica means they head into the World Cup in a buoyant mood.
The core of Tunisia’s team play their football in France’s first and second divisions and they are expected to lack the quality to trouble England. The two sides have met just once in the World Cup, with England running out 2-0 winners at France 1998.
Panama qualified for the World Cup after finishing ahead of Honduras and the United States in the final CONCACAF qualification round.
They scored just nine goals in ten games during qualifying and a recent 6-0 friendly defeat against Switzerland highlighted the difficulties they will face at World Cup level.
England’s travel during the group stage is a cause for concern, but they should possess enough quality to qualify for the knockout phase.
If England can win the group they will be pitted against the runner-up from Group H in the last 16. Their likely opponents would be either Poland or Colombia and both are the sort of sides England are capable of beating.
Things get trickier in the quarter-finals, with Brazil possibly lying in wait, although a 0-0 friendly draw last November proved that Southgate has got the Three Lions well organised.
Whether England can progress beyond the last eight is debatable, but let’s hope that they don’t live to regret their excessive travel during the first phase of the World Cup.