England open their World Cup campaign on Monday with manager Gareth Southgate seeking to banish memories of dismal recent finals performances while Belgium’s “Golden Generation” kick off as dark horse challengers.
England, winners on football’s biggest stage more than half a century ago, crashed out without a win four years in Brazil, and haven’t won a knock-out match in any tournament since 2006.
Southgate’s young charges however come to Russia quietly confident after a solid qualifying campaign and encouraging friendly results against the likes of Brazil, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
They play Tunisia in the historic city of Volgograd on Monday evening knowing anything other than a win would scatter pre-tournament plans, with Belgium looming later in Group G.
Southgate’s lack of experience was much fretted over when appointed but the former Under 21s coach has cultivated an atmosphere of unity and a determination to bury past failures.
“This team shouldn’t be burdened with that because they’re a fresh group, most of them have very few international caps, so the future is all ahead of them,” Southgate told reporters at the Volgograd Arena on Sunday.
England captain Harry Kane, who is yet to score a goal in a tournament, has vowed an aggressive approach against opponents expected to defend in numbers.
“First and foremost we are going to want to attack the game, we feel like we are going to have a lot of possession of the ball,” the Tottenham forward said.