World Cup 2018: England's group 'a bye' says Mark Lawrenson

Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney
Former captains Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney both featured as England failed to qualify from their group in Brazil in 2014 after failing to win a game

England's group for next year's Fifa World Cup is "an absolute bye" according to former Republic of Ireland and Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson.

Gareth Southgate's side are in Group G with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama.

Lawrenson told BBC 5 live: "If England don't qualify from the group, it's time to pack it in. It's that good a draw.

"[England boss] Gareth Southgate isn't expected to get through - he has to get through. Where would England be if they didn't make it out of the group?"

Top seeds Belgium are ranked fifth in the world but Tunisia are 27th and World Cup debutants Panama down in 56th, while England are 15th.

Belgium, who won nine of their 10 qualifiers to reach the finals in Russia, were beaten in the quarter-finals in Brazil four years ago by Argentina.

England beat Belgium at the 1990 finals and have lost just once to them since 1936.

England picked up just one point at the 2014 finals - a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica when Roy Hodgson's side were already eliminated.

That was the first time they had not made it out of their group since 1958, bar the three tournaments they failed to reach in 1974, 1978 and 1994.

The Three Lions have won just one game at the finals since they reached the quarter-finals in 2006.

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Drawing England is very special - Martinez

'Expectation is a disease, over-confidence is a disease'

Former England and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard represented his country at six major tournaments.

He retired from international football before Euro 2016, where England were beaten by Iceland in the last 16 - a defeat that ultimately cost head coach Roy Hodgson his job.

Gerrard told BBC Radio 5 live: "England have good players, got good individuals, but can they become a team?

"I've always felt we've suffered over the years in every tournament I've been in because we go in as a group of individuals rather than a team.

"The team can be successful, individuals can't.

"Going in with a bit less pressure because of the last tournament will help. Gareth is creating a good team spirit, a good togetherness and that can get you places. But within that you do need individuals that are going to shine, especially in the final third.

"Expectation is a disease, over-confidence is a disease. But you've got to go in with the right balance."

'Everything fell in England's favour'

"It's a fantastic draw for England," added 1990 semi-finalist Chris Waddle.

"You can't ask for a better draw. Every team is dangerous. Belgium are class on their day but the rest are very beatable.

"We know Belgium are talented and they should have done better in their last two tournaments. They lost to Wales at Euro 2016. They are very beatable."

Jermaine Jenas - who went to the 2006 finals with England - thinks that playing Belgium last in the group games is good for Southgate's men.

The schedule of matches in England's group

"I feel everything fell in our favour," he told BBC 5 live.

"The timing of the game against Belgium is good because it puts less pressure on - if you were to get beat by Belgium in the first game the pressure could mount."

South American football expert Tim Vickery believes that new boys Panama - who qualified at the expense of the United States - could struggle.

"It's an accessible enough group for England," he said.

"Panama were a bit unfortunate not to reach the last World Cup. Their players are in their mid-30s. They're a bit long in the tooth and a bit slow. They needed some fortune to qualify.

"What we've often seen from Latin American sides - and I'm worried for Peru too - is that sometimes the tournament can pass them by.

"The emotional level, it's different from anything else they've experienced. They often don't play well until their third game. England is their second match. I'll be very surprised if England don't pick up three points against them."

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