England were handed a favourable draw for the 2018 World Cup in Russia after being chosen to face Belgium, Panama and Tunisia in Group G.
After avoiding Argentina, Brazil and Germany, England were the penultimate team picked from Pot 2 by Diego Maradona in the draw ceremony in the Kremlin’s State Palace.
Gareth Southgate’s side will face Tunisia in their opening game in Volgograd on June 18, a repeat of their first game in the 1998 World Cup in France, when goals from Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes gave England a 2-0 win in Marseille.
They 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.
England have never lost to Belgium at a major tournament and have only lost one of their 21 matches against them.
Former England captain Shearer told the BBC: “I don’t want to say it’s a good group or a bad group because I’ve heard it so many times over the years.
“We’ve got six days of rest after our first game, which if they are worried about travel, that shouldn’t be an issue.”
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.
Shearer believes Southgate will be “quietly pleased” with England’s group, despite the firepower Belgium have at their disposal.
“Eden Hazard, (Romelu) Lukaku, (Kevin) De Bruyne, who are all having excellent seasons – that will be a very, very tough game,” Shearer added.
“They have got some top quality players in that team. We’ve been saying it for a while now that they should go a distance in the tournament because of the number of players they have at their disposal.”
Southgate also played in England’s game against Tunisia in 1998 and told the BBC: “It’s the first thing that went through my mind.
“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.”
Asked what he knows about Tunisia, Southgate added: “We’ve got to find that out now. We haven’t done as much research on the African teams as yet.
“That’s what’s great; you know where you’re playing, who you’re playing and now we can really start to focus in on that.
“There’s a little bit of travelling (after the first game) and maybe gives us the opportunity for injuries if we get them to clear up. You’re always grateful for as much preparation time as possible for any game.”
Panama will be playing in their first World Cup finals in Russia, but Southgate insisted he would be taking nothing for granted after England’s exit from the 2016 European Championships at the hands of Iceland.
“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.”
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