The tournament has been more open and unpredictable than many were expecting and there is not one standout team in the slightest.
On Sunday lunchtime, it is England and Panama’s turn to thrive in the spotlight, as they convene for an important Group G clash.
The Two Teams
England have been a dire side to watch in major tournament over the years, with 1966 not far off from being the only exception.
Don’t let Italia ’90 and Euro ’96 fool you – they really weren’t that good most of the time in either competition.
This feels like a different Three Lions outfit under Gareth Southgate, however – one that may not possess the talent and experience of yesteryear, but one that feels more likeable and vibrant. England to win the World Cup is 11/1 with RedsBet.
Club tribalism seems to have gone out of the window to an extent, and it is easier to root of them, even as a Liverpool fan who realises the strained relationship between the Reds and the national team.
England’s performance in their opening game against Tunisia on Monday was largely good, with the first-half particularly eye-catching.
There was actually an argument to say that no team in Russia has played better than England in those early exchanges, when the football on show was fluency personified.
Harry Kane’s last-gasp header earned Southgate’s men a richly-deserved 2-1 win and they are now in pole position to reach the knockout stages.
As for Panama, they are battling with Saudi Arabia to be the most limited side in the tournament, with all due respect.
They offered very little against Belgium in their eventual 3-0 defeat – they were spirited defensively in a goalless first half, in fairness – and in terms of individual star quality there is almost nothing to write home about.
That being said, it should not be forgotten that Panama finished ahead of USA in World Cup qualifying, so they are not completely inept.
Centre-back Fidel Escobar, who plies his trade with New York Red Bulls, is one of the slightly more recognisable faces, while defensive partner Roman Torres is a national hero after his exploits in qualifying.
A defence-minded style is rather predictable, as they aim to keep the score at 0-0 for as long as possible and potentially sneak a goal on the break.
The lack of class in attack makes that difficult, though.
There are two Liverpool players representing the Reds for England this summer: Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Their involvement is likely to be at different ends of the spectrum this summer, though, especially if the Tunisia game is anything to go by.
Henderson excelled in the middle of the park having been preferred to Tottenham’s Eric Dier, spraying passes around, biting into tackles and showing the leadership that has made him such an effective captain at Anfield.
The 28-year-old receives unfathomable levels of sticks from some fans, both Liverpool and rival supporters, but he is a good footballer who is an undisputed key man for the Three Lions.
Alexander-Arnold is still waiting for his World Cup debut and Kieran Trippier’s impressive display on Monday is unlikely to see Southgate altering his right wing-back options.
A cameo role will be the best Liverpool’s brilliant teenager can hope for, but he will have total faith in lighting up the tournament if given the chance.
These few weeks in Russia will be another major step in the right direction for Alexander-Arnold, regardless of whether he plays or not.
Who’s Going To Win?
When it comes to England you can’t completely write off a shock defeat, with that infamous loss to Iceland two years ago a perfect example.
Despite that, failure to overcome a very ordinary Panama side on Sunday would be a dreadful result – one of the worst in the country’s history.
England have too much pace and movement for their opponents to handle in the final third, most notably from the likes of Dele Alli (if he plays) Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, with one of the latter two starting on the substitutes’ bench.
Then there’s Kane, who has matured into one of the most cold-blooded finishers in world football and will fully believe he can bag at least two more goals against his limited opponents.
It will be an easy England victory and progression to the last-16 before they even play Belgium next Thursday.
Prediction: England 3-0 Panama