Harry Kane scored a dramatic injury-time winner for England as Gareth Southgate’s men started their World Cup campaign with a 2-1 win over Tunisia in Volgograd.
Captain Kane opened the scoring after a hugely impressive opening period, tapping home after a thunderous header from John Stones after just 11 minutes.
It was not to last, however. Kyle Walker was adjudged to have hauled down Fakhreddine Ben Youssef illegally and a penalty was awarded to Tunisia, which Ferjan Sassi slotted away expertly to level the tie.
But, after the clock ticked past the 90-minute mark, it was Kane who popped up at the back post and nodded home the last-gasp winner to earn three points for the Three Lions.
Harry Kane scored twice for England, including an injury-time winner, to fire them a 2-1 win over Tunisia in Volgograd
Captain Kane was on hand to turn home England’s opener after John Stones’ bullet header was clawed away by the ‘keeper
Kane wheels away to the corner as his team-mates hare after him in celebration following the early goal in Volgograd
Kyle Walker was then adjudged to have committed a foul on Tunisia’s Fakhreddine Ben Youssef after a tangle in the box
Ferjani Sassi then put the ball to the right of Jordan Pickford, who, despite getting a fingertip to it, could not keep it out
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
TUNISIA: Hassen (Ben Mustapha 15), Meriah, Syam Ben Youssef, Bronn, Maaloul, Skhiri, Badri, Sassi, Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, Khazri (Khalifa 85), Sliti (Ben Amor 73)
Subs not used: Benalouane, Haddadi, Bedoui, Khaoui, Khalil, Srarfi, Chaalali, Nagguez, Mathlouthi
ENGLAND: Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Trippier, Alli (Loftus-Cheek 80), Henderson, Lingard, Young, Sterling (Rashford 68), Kane
Subs not used: Butland, Rose, Dier, Vardy, Welbeck, Cahill, Jones, Delph, Alexander-Arnold, Pope
Goal: Kane 11
Referee: Wilmar Roldan Perez (Colombia)
That England went in level at half-time was a travesty; but it was a travesty, sadly, of the players own creation. Miss followed miss, blunder followed blunder in front of goal. Not just half-chances, or even good chances, but absolute sitters, the sort any professional feels he could score with his eyes shut.
Defensively, Tunisia had no answer to Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli in England’s front line. From set pieces, they could not handle John Stones and, largely, Harry Maguire. England were dominating, winning every ball in the air, getting behind the full backs, working opportunities in the box.
If they have scored all they created, they would have had the game won long before Tunisia got a horribly soft penalty against the run of play. Had they scored even half what they created they would probably still have been safe.
England had more shots on target in the first-half than any team in this World Cup so far; unfortunately, these glimpses of goal did not all fall to Harry Kane. Had England scored six it would not have flattered them.
Instead, they went in at half-time level. Blunders in front of goal and a dubious penalty award from Colombian official Wilmar Roldan went against them.
We hoped VAR would expose the play-actors. Unfortunately football, like so much in this world, is not an exact science. Some think Kyle Walker caught Fakhreddine Ben Youssef with a trailing, extended arm, and therefore he was entitled to go down. But the contact was minimal, the fall exaggerated.
It didn’t look like a foul and if Ben Youssef falls that easily when touched he must have a nightmare on public transport. Still, Roldan fell for it, pointed to the spot, and despite some conversation no doubt with the referee impersonators dressed in their kit in a television studio in Moscow, he was given no reason to consult a screen or change his mind.
The players emerge from the tunnel at the Volgograd Arena ahead of their opening fixture at the 2018 World Cup
England manager Gareth Southgate and his assistant Manager Steve Holland take their seats in the dugout ahead of kick off
England came roaring out of the blocks and were it not for Mouez Hassen’s big toe, Jesse Lingard would have put them ahead
Moments later Lingard ghosted into the box and squared it to Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling at the back post
Sterling, however, could not convert despite being under no pressure at the back post, but the pressure soon told
John Stones leapt tremendously above the Tunisia players from a corner and rifled one towards Hassen’s goal
The Tunisia stopper managed to keep the ball out after an incredibly acrobatic save, but the ball fell to the England skipper
The Tottenham striker poached brilliantly to turn past the helpless Tunisia ‘keeper and get England’s campaign started
The jubilant England players pile atop Kane following England’s opener at the Volgograd Arena on Monday night
England’s No 1 Jordan Pickford turns to the travelling England supporters and lets out a yell of celebration after the goal
The best that can be said is that Ferjani Sassi’s finish from the spot was outstanding, He swept it into the side-netting to his left, even though Jordan Pickford guessed correctly. But it should have been little more than a consolation. It should have been an irrelevance: and here’s why.
This was England’s best performance in a tournament opener in many years. Much better than their last win, over Paraguay in 2006. It was everything Gareth Southgate would have wanted, all he planned for – except in one aspect: the finishing. Were Kane surrounded by men of his calibre with the goal in sight, England would have laid down an emphatic marker within 45 of properly entering this World Cup.
Instead, there would have been an unease in the Anglo end of the Vodagrad Arena, a disquiet in the sitting rooms of old England. Was it going to be on those nights? One of those nights when England do everything required to win; except win. We have watched the tournament favourites over the last five days and they have not started as brightly as this. England were excellent, until they got to the place that matters most.
You’ve heard commentators tell you how a player did the hard part, only to miss the goal. Ignore him; it’s rubbish. The goal is the hard part. That’s why strikers get the most money. Time and again, England did exactly what Southgate asked of them, saw the target, and panicked.
From early on, too. The game was only three minutes old when Jordan Henderson – whose passing range continues to improve – played a lovely ball over the top for Alli. Sterling couldn’t quite get on the end of it, but Lingard could and should have done better, his shot diverted around a post by the feet of goalkeeper Mouez Hassen. From the corner, a Maguire header was scrambled away.
But the celebrations were soon brought to a shuddering halt following Walker’s challenge with Ben Youssef in the area
Referee Wilmar Roldan points to the penalty spot to award Tunisia with a spot kick and a golden chance to level the match
Roldan brandishes a yellow card to Walker as Kane, Dele Alli and Co remonstrate with the referee after the decision
Sassi stepped up to the ball calmly and whipped it to the goalkeeper’s right, which was enough to see him score for Tunisia
Sassi celebrates after levelling the score and turning the game on its head during a frantic first period at the Volgograd Arena
Just two minutes later, Alli played a beautiful reverse pass inside to release Lingard and his cross put Sterling in, and the ball on a plate. What happened? He went for it with his wrong feet, somehow getting mixed up between that machine gun right, and his lesser left, and sending the ball bobbling wide. There were 85 minutes to go and already the chance of the night had been spurned. It surely wasn’t going to get better than that.
Yet, it did. From an Ashley Young corner on 11 minutes, John Stones’s header was palmed out by Hassen, but only as far as Kane, who turned it in. To make matters worse for Tunisia, Hassen injured his shoulder making the save. He was replaced soon after by Farouk Ben Mustapha, more experienced but supposedly inferior. Henderson tested him almost immediately after a Kieran Trippier cross had been lamely cleared. He dealt with it well.
Still England tried and failed in front of goal. Young hit a great cross after 24 minutes, but Lingard finished it woefully at the far post, scuffing the ball tamely wide. Maguire had another header saved from a Trippier free-kick soon after and, once Tunisia equalised, it was hoped the unexpected reverse would focus English minds. Sadly, no.
A 39th minute goalmouth scramble saw Sterling miss the ball with an attempted overhead kick, then Stones miss it entirely trying a more conventional finish. Another Maguire header found Lingard in a central position once more, but at least this time his shot was deflected over.
Finally, the sort of one on one, that a clinical finisher fantasises about, Lingard put through by a ball over the top, only Ben Mustapha to beat. He slipped the ball past him and then watched as it rolled agonisingly and hit the near post, diverting wide instead of straight out for a rebound finish. Of course it did.
Stones swings a wild left boot at the ball after it falls kindly for him, but he fluffs his lines and Tunisia are let off the hook
Lingard, desperate to get back in front, pokes the ball beyond substitute goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha – but it’s just wide
The Manchester United forward is then found in acres of space at the back post but can only manage to slide it wide
Another massive chance goes begging as Lingard fires a volley from 12 yards out, but it ricochets off a Tunisian defender
There were many calls by England players for penalties after the Tunisia defenders appeared to grapple them in the box
Southgate looks to ring the changes as he calls on Marcus Rashford to replace Raheem Sterling in the second half
Author: Nancy Parker
Nancy Parker is a five time Emmy Award winning journalist and seven time Emmy nominee who has spent almost twenty five years covering news in South Louisiana. She has anchored every prime time newscast at WVUE FOX8 during her twenty year tenure in New Orleans.