England got their World Cup campaign off to the perfect start with a 2-1 victory over Tunisia, courtesy of a last-minute second goal from Harry Kane.
The Tottenham star opened the scoring in the 11th minute, diverting John Stones’ thunderous header into the net when it was presented to him from the goalkeeper’s gloves in the six yard box.
Things went from bad to worse for Tunisia, as a matter minutes later, their goalkeeper Mouez Hassen was forced off the field with an apparent shoulder injury.
England’s first half dominance failed to result in further pressure on the scoreboard though which allowed their opposition a root back into the game.
Tunisia’s equaliser came just past the half hour mark, when Ferjani Sassi converted from the penalty spot after Kyle Walker’s flailing arm in the box saw a spot kick awarded.
The Three Lions seemingly took their foot off the gas in the latter stages, however, Kane ensured his team would take all three points when he headed home at the back post from a deflected Harry Maguire effort as the game reached stoppage time.
Captain Kane to the rescue
With his opening goal in this match, Spurs hitman Kane continued his run of scoring every single time he has worn the captain’s armband for his country.
Coming off the back of another stellar season at club level with his first 30-goal Premier League season – trumped only by Mohamed Salah’s record-breaking haul at Liverpool – Kane has carried his form into his first ever World Cup.
In both goals he exhibited exemplary striker’s instincts, lurking at the back post and being on hand to turn the ball home when the opportunity arose.
As England’s pace began to decrease in the second half, his impact was less pronounced and touches of the ball were less frequent, but he proved his quality and stepped up for his team as a captain should, and looks set for a fruitful tournament to come.
The next era of English football
With just three players over the age of 32 and an average age of 26 – making them the equal youngest squad in the tournament – England are not only building for the present, but with a view to the future under Gareth Southgate.
With the Under 20’s winning the U20 World Cup and the Under 19’s claiming the European crown for their age in 2017, the future is certainly bright at St. George’s Park and with a solid foundation laid in this tournament, it could be a very exciting time for England as a footballing nation.
Substitutes Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, two of the youngest in the squad, came on to have a tremendous impact on the match in their respective World Cup debuts, and Dele Alli was one of the best on the pitch. Even Kane is just 25-years of age.
Still searching for their second World Cup crown and a first since 1966, with a good young manager and an excellent young squad, the drought may well be over before too long.
Tunisia not to be counted out
Being a small nation and coming up against England, it was not expected to be easy for Tunisia, but they performed admirably and were ultimately unlucky to concede the winner so late in the match.
They defended well and showed great strength to withhold England’s first-half dominance and go into the half-time break at 1-1, and when the Three Lions were in relaxation mode in the second period, Tunisia began to ask one or two questions.
Goalscorer Sassi was effective in providing a forward thrust through the midfield when there was an opportunity to break, while Naim Sliti and Fakhreddine Ben Youssef found a lot of the ball out wide to try to build scoring opportunities.
The World Cup can prove anything is possible as it has already in this installment, and the Carthage Eagles can back themselves to be a shock inclusion in the knockout stages.
More to come from England
It was a tale of two halves for Southgate’s side, who were rampant and should have been out of sight in the opening 45, but ended up needing to show resolve and a slice of luck late on to grind out the win.
The speed and intricacy of passing through the final third between Kane and Raheem Sterling, plus Alli and Jesse Lingard as they joined the attack was unstoppable at times, and the three at the back system worked brilliantly – allowing Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier to gallop down the flanks and be involved.
In Kane and Sterling, Southgate is blessed to have a fluid forward line that complements each other, with the pace and trickery of the latter working well with the striker’s composure, physicality and intelligence around the box.
This further allowed attacks to be developed both in the air from crosses and along the floor, contributing to a sense of unpredictability when they moved forward.
Jordan Henderson was instrumental in holding down the midfield, Lingard and Alli were free to get creative in the final third and the defence was resolute against Tunisian counter attacks.
It seemed a lack of energy contributed to the decreased performance in the second half, which will be eradicated with more training and more experience for such a young squad.
All is set for England to make a deep run in the competition, if they can maintain consistency and keep their performances at the highest level.