The Europeans are considered by many as the strongest dark-horses to win the tournament.
The opening match in Group G promises to deliver a fascinating contrast of styles. Belgium, for their part, go into the game with serious momentum after some impressive performances in their warm-up friendlies, and coach Roberto Martinez boasts a talented generation at the peak of its powers. His players bring solid international experience as well, with the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil and UEFA EURO 2016 under their belts, and they now hope to reach a whole new level in Russia.
As for Panama, they are set to embark on their first ever World Cup adventure but have no intention of giving Les Diables Rouges (Red Devils) an easy start. Coach Hernan Dario Gomez is wary of Belgium’s firepower and will be anxious for his side to keep things tight at the back, especially since neighbours Costa Rica suffered a heavy 4-1 loss to the European hopefuls in a friendly just a week ago.
Team Reporter Analysis
Simon Massart (Belgium)
Roberto Martinez is expected to begin the tournament with a 3-4-2-1 formation, fielding a three-man defence and tasking Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Meunier with patrolling the flanks. Meanwhile, Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens will look to provide service for Romelu Lukaku and leave heads spinning in the Panama defence as often as possible.
Samuel McCollin (Panama)
For Panama, this opening game represents the most important match in their history. Their first ever World Cup opponents possess a number of gifted attacking players, but Los Canaleros (The Canal Men) will be determined to show their best by building on their defensive rigour and tactical discipline, while looking to get forward on the break.
Did you know?
This fixture may look one-sided on paper, but a glance at the history books makes it appear even more daunting for Panama. Since losing to Mexico at the Estadio Azteca during the group stage at the 1986 World Cup, Belgium are undefeated in 11 matches against CONCACAF nations, posting nine wins and two draws. Panama, on the other hand, have yet to prevail in nine previous meetings with European teams, drawing four and losing five.
Panama: Jaime Penedo; Roman Torres, Fidel Escobar, Eric Davis, Michael Murillo; Gabriel Gomez, Anibal Godoy, Armando Cooper, Edgar Barcenas, Jose Luis Rodriguez; Blas Perez