The England national team has never really played its football with serenity or tranquillity. All was pretty much calm before England’s Group G opener against Tunisia at the 2018 World Cup, but that unflustered atmosphere was challenged in Volgograd.
Harry Kane’s 92nd-minute winner saved The Three Lions from offering the national newspapers typical headlines after the opening game of a major tournament, in a match that looked dead-set on finishing as a draw.
Manager Gareth Southgate showed more passion on the touchline than any other England boss has done before in recent history. His spirited players, meanwhile, celebrated both goals with emotional pile-ons not knowing the jubilation back home over 2,000 miles away.
Tunisia were proving to be a tough nut to crack thanks to their solid midfield and similarly solid defence, but England started in very positive fashion and ultimately got the all-important goal to secure an opening game victory for the first time since 2006.
The build-up to the tournament in Russia was special, but this was once again a match full of frustration. Frustration turned to passion, wild celebrations, and most importantly, three points though, which gives supporters a glimmer of hope that football is ‘coming home’.
Raheem Sterling had a poor game and was constantly closed out by tight marking from the Tunisia defence, but Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard expectedly combining well, creating three decent chances within the first 10 minutes.
Sterling’s frustrations peaked in the first half as he fluffed an open goal with an embarrassing effort and Lingard’s expertly-placed pass across goal – he was flagged offside but it did bode well with fans regardless.
Newly-appointed captain Kane gave England the lead on 11 minutes after John Stones forced an immaculate save from ‘keeper Mouez Hassen, whilst carrying a shoulder injury which subsequently forced him off, and the no.9 was there to stroke the rebound home.
England’s dominance continued, and they could have been two or three ahead over the course of the match, but the control meant nothing when Tunisia were bizarrely awarded a way back into the match mid-way through the first period.
Kyle Walker was the imposter, as his flailing arm struck Fakhreddine Ben Youssef and the Tunisian falling down dramatically, certainly making the most of it. VAR was checked and approved by the referee – a penalty was given, and converted.
The match then seemed to drift away from Southgate’s men, who started with impressive urgency and fluidity, but all had gone flat before the introductions of young duo Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Marcus Rashford.
Jordan Henderson instructing his midfielders to pass it backwards, most of the time being ignored as penetrative passes were flowing well, which led to most of the frustrations, but England found a way to spare further sorrow at major tournaments.
Kane’s late header was a perfect example of his sheer quality, hanging at the back post for a late cross to meet his head before precisely directing the ball past Farouk Ben Mustafa and into the net.
But, England came away with a deserved victory to send to nation on their nights out in high spirits. England made the chances, scored the goals, survived controversy, and have three points thanks to their biggest chance of success this summer, Harry Kane.