World Cup 2018: England are in a difficult group, says Gareth Southgate

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Two engagements, one birth and four birthdays so far in England 'family'
Fifa World Cup: Tunisia v England
Date: Monday, 18 June (19:00 BST) Venue: Volgograd Arena, Volgograd
Coverage: Watch the game live on BBC One, the BBC Sport website and app. Listen live on 5 live, with live text commentary online

England are facing one of the World Cup's toughest groups as they begin their campaign against Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday, manager Gareth Southgate says.

Southgate's side were regarded as having a potentially easy route to the last 16 when they were placed in Group G with Tunisia, Panama and Belgium.

England have not won an opening group game at a major tournament since beating Paraguay at the 2006 World Cup in Germany - and Southgate believes they have not been given a comfortable ride in Russia.

He said: "When the draw was made, everyone had this perception that it was the easiest group. I would argue it is one of the most difficult with ourselves, Tunisia and, of course, Belgium, in terms of the Fifa world rankings."

Roberto Martinez's Belgium are ranked third while England are 12th and Tunisia 21st. Panama are 55th.

Southgate is full of respect for Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul and his side, saying: "For every opponent, we would prepare exactly the same - not to flood the players with information about the opposition. I think we've done the same with Tunisia as we would for Brazil.

"We've highlighted their style of play. We've highlighted the areas we feel we can exploit. They are a good team. They like to play. I like their coach's ideas. They're very organised. They like to play from the back. Their organisation against Spain was excellent and this is a big test for us."

England players
Tottenham striker Harry Kane (right) will lead the team out at a major finals for the first time

Southgate, who played at the 1998 World Cup with England and was a non-playing member of the 2002 squad, will be filled with pride when the action starts at the Volgograd Arena.

He said: "It's a very proud moment, of course. My family are incredibly patriotic. My grandad was a marine. I've always been brought up with England being a core part of what we stood for and my life.

"To have played for England in major tournaments and now managing England is of course a huge honour.

"My focus can't be that I'm a tourist and I'm chuffed to be here but I will for sure enjoy the experience because I know there were too many things I did in the past that I didn't take in.

"I think I'd be able to take those things in and focus on the job now because I'm more experienced. But it is another game of football, on a pitch the size that these boys have played on all their lives and we have to prepare them that way."

Southgate has told his England players the team, with Jordan Pickford expected to start in goal and Jordan Henderson edging out Eric Dier in midfield, leaving room for both Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard.

England (probable):

Pickford, Trippier, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Young, Henderson, Alli, Lingard, Sterling, Kane (captain).

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