MOSCOW (Reuters) - Belgium play Panama in a Group G match in Sochi on Monday.
Where: Fisht Stadium, Sochi
When: Monday, June 18, 1800 local (1500 GMT/1100 ET)
Referee: To be announced
- Belgium go into the tournament hoping to reach the final and so go one better than their best showing, when they lost 2-0 in the 1986 semi-final to eventual winners Argentina. They also want to improve on quarter-final exits in 2014 and at Euro 2016.
- A streak of six successive qualifications for the finals from 1982 to 2002 was followed by a long period of the wilderness until they reached the last finals in Brazil.
- A country of 11 million, where soccer is one of the rare passions that unites its French- and Dutch-speaking halves, would match neighbours and rivals the Dutch if it makes the final — and outdo them if it could lift the Cup, becoming by far the smallest nation to do so since Uruguay in 1930 and 1950.
- Panama, a country of four million living around the Canal which links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, has never before qualified for the World Cup finals; people have long been more interested in baseball. Panama did not even field a team for World Cup qualifying until the 1978 competition.
- Belgium’s 23-man squad features 13 English Premier League players, of whom 11 from clubs that finished in the top five last season. Only two play in the Belgian championship, as many as play in both Spain and in Italy.
Previous meetings: None. Although, Belgium ominously hammered Panama’s stronger Central American neighbours Costa Rica — the Belgians’ fellow 2014 quarter-finalists — 4-0 last Monday in a friendly.
Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Christian Radnedge