Volgograd (Russia): Captain Harry Kane came to the rescue with two goals, the second a dramatic added on winner, as England began their World Cup Group G campaign with a stuttering 2-1 win over Tunisia, here Monday.
Gareth Southgate’s men almost paid a heavy price for missing a slew of first half chances (Jesse Lingard being the worst offender) when Tunisia’s Ferjani Sassi slotted home a softly-awarded penalty 20 minutes before the interval. And the North Africans were still level as the game went past the 90-minute mark.
But Harry Maguire won a header from a corner and Kane was on hand at the far post to nod in the winner before being mobbed by his ecstatic teammates.
“I’m so proud of the lads,” Kane said. “They kept going, kept going to the last second. I am absolutely buzzing, everyone on the staff is. It shows good character to get the job done.”
England had started brightly in a blur of passing and movement and could have been two goals up inside the first four minutes. First Jordan Henderson’s lofted first-time pass released Dele Alli and when the ball eventually broke to Lingard he saw his shot from six yards saved by the outstretched left boot of Mouez Hassen in the Tunisia goal.
Kane had been kept quiet in the opening salvos but he exploded into action in the 11th minute when he cut inside from the left and saw his shot from the edge of the box deflected wide for a corner.
Ashley Young delivered the set piece for John Stones to rise highest and meet with a powerful header. Hassen saved acrobatically but Kane was on hand to tap home the rebound with his right foot and open his World Cup account.
Hassen, who had injured his left shoulder making an earlier save, could not continue and left the field in tears as he was replaced in the Tunisian goal by Farouk Ben Mustapha.
England continued to press and were made to pay for not converting a succession of chances when they conceded a soft penalty.
Kyle Walker swung a lazy arm across Fakhreddine Ben Youssef who fell as if pole-axed and Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan pointed to the spot, with his decision being upheld by the VAR.
Ferjani Sassi took one step and fired home confidently past the hitherto unemployed Jordan Pickford and Tunisia who had been outplayed for the first half hour were somehow level 10 minutes before half time.
Still there was time for Lingard to come close again twice, first from a goal-bound shot and then a dink over the keeper which agonisingly struck the post. Alli too hit the woodwork with a header and England went into half time wondering how they had not sealed victory already.
England still enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but could not find the same zip and penetration they had enjoyed at the start of the first half.
The ineffective Raheem Sterling gave way to Marcus Rashford with just over 20 minutes to go and the Manchester United man almost fashioned a chance straight away with a jinking run into the box. But again Linegard put the ball wide. And then with minutes ticking away, Kane gave England their first win in a World Cup game after eight years.
However, even after winning the game, England will have to address a few issues if they are to advance deep into the tournament. Coach Gareth Southgate had adopted a 3-5-2 formation against Tunisia. But for the system to be successful, the wing-backs need to be speedy. However, both Harry Maguire and Ashley Young were found lacking in pace whenever they advanced to join the attackers. Tunisia could not take advantage of the situation, but then there is every possibility that other team will look to exploit the situation.
And then Lingard. The number of chances the player missed, would have surely earned him a huge reprimand if he was playing for a junior side. Against top quality opposition, England will not be able to create the same number of openings. It is thus important to use those that come. The Three Lions were lucky that skipper Kane was there to save them Monday, but then that will not happen every day. Lingard will have to find his shooting boots soon otherwise they will have to pay dearly for the missed chances.
1-First time England have scored more than one goal in a World Cup opener since their 2-2 draw against Sweden in 2006
6-No of openings created Kieran Trippier of England, the most by any player in the 2018 World Cup till