Belgium vs Panama
Venue: Fisht Olympic Stadium
Kick off: 4pm
Belgium will be without defenders Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen when they start their World Cup Group G campaign against Panama this afternoon.
Manchester City defender Kompany injured his groin in a friendly against Portugal, while Barcelona’s Vermaelen suffered a hamstring injury last month.
Even though neither player will be fit for the opening game, Belgium decided to send standby defender Laurent Ciman home on Saturday.
Head coach Roberto Martinez said he was confident in the players at his disposal and was prepared to let Ciman go.
“Vermaelen has improved really well like we expected,” he said. “He is not going to be involved in the game against Panama. I think medically he could be fit for the next two games.
“With Kompany we are going to take until tomorrow to make the final call. But we are confident with his progress since the Portugal game that he will be available to be involved in the third game of the group phase.”
Belgium’s final group game is likely to be their toughest as they face England in Kaliningrad on June 28. But they are unbeaten in 19 matches under Martinez and are among the favourites to go far at the World Cup.
“I think we know how strong we are and I hope we can show it in this tournament,” said Napoli forward Dries Mertens.
Panama are making their World Cup debut and have lost to Denmark, Switzerland and Norway in their warm-up matches.
Seattle Sounders defender Roman Torres scored the goal that secured qualification, and he said: “Getting to the World Cup wasn’t easy.
“Now we are there and the truth is that to win a game or to advance to the next round, we’ll need to work twice or three times as hard as what we have been doing so far to achieve that objective. That’s the mentality that we have.”