Belgium will be without defenders Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen when they start their World Cup Group G campaign against Panama on Monday (3pm).
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.”
With Kompany and Vermaelen both out, Celtic’s Dedryck Boyata could start in the centre of defence for Belgium.
Eden Hazard should be fit to start despite going off with an injury in the final warm-up game against Costa Rica.
Panama captain Torres is also expected to be available after recovering from a hamstring injury while Gabriel Torres and veteran Blas Perez will battle for a starting spot up front.
This will be the first ever encounter between Belgium and Panama.
The first European team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Belgium scored the joint-most goals in the UEFA qualifiers alongside Germany (43).
They were also one of four unbeaten teams, alongside England, Germany and Spain.
Belgium are unbeaten in their last nine World Cup group games (W4 D5), winning each of their last four.
They have made it to the second round in six of their last seven World Cup appearances; the only exception coming in 1998.
In the CONCACAF qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup, no Panama player scored more than two goals (Gabriel and Roman Torres).
In fact, Panama made it to Russia with a negative goal difference (-1), winning only three of their 10 games in the last round of CONCACAF qualifying.
Romelu Lukaku scored 11 goals in eight games during the World Cup qualifiers, only Robert Lewandowski (16) and Cristiano Ronaldo (15) were more prolific among European sides.
This will be Panama boss Hernan Dario Gomez’s third World Cup with a third different team.
He took charge of his home nation Colombia in 1998 and Ecuador in 2002, both times getting knocked out in the group stages.