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England must stay composed if Panama attempt tricks

8:50 am, 23rd June 2018

McAnuff, who played for Reading in the Premier League as well as Watford, Crystal Palace and West Ham, has faced Panama four times competitively in the last five years in World Cup qualifying with Jamaica.

His side have drawn twice and lost twice against Panama, who now face England in World Cup Group G on Sunday following their 3-0 defeat by Belgium on Monday.

McAnuff, now at Leyton Orient, says England should keep their head in case Panama attempt to frustrate them physically, and also says the opposition’s centre-halves could be split.

Here, we run through his advice for the England side ahead of the clash in Veliky Novgorod.

Keep your head!

“My advice for the team would be to stay composed. We came across a lot of tricks from the Panama side and others in qualification; I’d call them fouls, but a lot of things that go unnoticed, little pulls of the shirt or trying to stop your momentum if you’re looking to pace forward.

“There were little fine details they will try to do to put you off your game, and you must keep a level head. We suffered in one game, getting a man sent off through frustration. It’s something I’m sure England are used to facing, but Panama are clever in that sense.

“They’ve been around the block, there’s a lot of experience, and they are very, very street-wise. England have a lot of young lads in the squad at the moment, and it’ll be an interesting challenge.”

Let the centre-halves split

“Their centre-halves – two from Roman Torres, Fidel Escobar or Felipe Baloy – are almost like throwback English centre-halves; they’ll come, head it, very strong and very keen to win the ball.

“I definitely think that’s an area England can exploit. I think they will be that keen to come and win the ball, that you can really pull them apart. If you can get good movement around them, with Harry Kane dropping into the pocket, or maybe the deeper player, Loftus-Cheek or Sterling or Rashford, whoever that is, they can definitely slip into the forward’s pocket.

“I think the centre-halves will be keen to engage, which can be a strength to some extent, but if England’s movement is good enough they can exploit it.”

They’re not about flair

“They were always well organised. I wouldn’t say that flair, attacking football was their forte. They were very much organised, defensively minded, with senior players. The goalkeeper and two centre-halves have been involved for a long time now, as have the midfield.

“Their physicality is what set them aside from the other Central American and South American sides I’ve played against in the past. You knew you were in for a game, and was almost like playing against an English-style side. That was strange, being so far from home.

“For the lads who were used to it, with quite a few of us in the squad having played in England, it was OK. They were an anomaly in our qualification campaign; they are definitely different to what you’d expect.”

They’ll sit deep

“They’re not possession-based, like other sides we’ve come against like Costa Rica. They will be quite content for England to have the ball in certain areas, get their bulk of defensive players in and try to hit on the break with quick wingers.

“That was certainly the trait we came up against numerous times. If England play the football they have been playing, keeping the ball and controlling the game, they should be able to navigate it fairly comfortably.

Score early

“Northern Ireland went over there and drew, and Wales drew with them over here too. If England can score early it should open Panama up, which could make it easier if they have to come out and attack.

“I think a lot of the senior Panama players will consider getting to the tournament a prize, but may have come around a bit too late for some of them in terms of being at their physical peak.”