MOSCOW — Gareth Southgate’s first World Cup game as a coach will be a repeat of his first as a player.
In 1998, Southgate made his World Cup debut in England’s 2-0 win over Tunisia. Twenty years and three days later, on June 18, his England team will take on Tunisia again.
Southgate said he remembers that 1998 match in Marseille as “one of the best days of my life.”
He added: “Incredible atmosphere down there. I just remember the color of it, the Beatles music playing before the game … It was a brilliant occasion.”
England was also drawn to face Belgium and Panama in Group G, but Southgate said he won’t underestimate any opposition, given England’s recent history.
In 2014, it was Costa Rica that ended England’s World Cup run in the group stage, and last year Iceland defeated the English team at the European Championship.
“Coming from two tournaments where Costa Rica knocked us out and then Iceland, it would be funny for us not to be serious about our preparation,” Southgate said. “(Tunisia and Panama) are on a high and will relish the opportunity to play England.”
Belgium is no mystery for England, given how many of its stars ply their trade in the English Premier League, such as Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku and Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele.
“Belgium we know pretty much everything about. I think that will really capture people’s imagination at home. Probably the best team they’ve ever had,” Southgate said. “I’d think there’d be a bit of banter going on at Tottenham, Man United, Chelsea at the moment, all the players winding each other up.”
Coach Roberto Martinez took over the Belgium job last year after leaving Everton, and Southgate expects to see him scouting players frequently around the Premier League.
“Roberto I know really well,” Southgate said. “We’ll be bumping into each other at Premier League matches for the next few months.”