England, headed up by Spurs golden boy Harry Kane, kicked off England’s World Cup efforts in style with a 2-1 win over Tunisia on Monday night. With the game book ended by two goals from Captain Kane, England not only beat Tunisia, but they also beat back the expectation the team have set for themselves with the series of lacklustre performances they’ve put in at major tournaments in recent years.
The First Half
The games opening quarter was everything that coach Gareth Southgate would have wanted it to be. His promises of bold, attacking football and well-oiled sidepieces, practised in their games against Nigeria and Costa Rica was evident, with a number of incisions through the Tunisian defence made by Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli. England dominated the pitch, finding opportunity after opportunity to get a chance at the goal. A few more of these chances converted into goals would have been nice, but it’s still an encouraging sight to kick off England’s World Cup campaign.
The hunger to get on the ball and make chances paid off in the 11th minute, where after a header off a corner from Man City’s John Stones was deflected, Harry Kane got his foot to it to slot it past the goal keeper. It wasn’t a flashy goal, but its indicative of the kind of intelligent, team based football that will serve this squad well through the tournament. It was also Kane’s first World Cup goal and the first of the Southgate era, even getting the normally stoic man himself out of his seat.
🏴 Harry Kane for England 🔥🔥🔥
⚪️ 8 games
⚽️ 10 goals
🔴 1 assist pic.twitter.com/BKbJ7Bt3mw
— UEFA EURO 2020 (@UEFAEURO) June 18, 2018
The momentum continued for a time, with more attacks creating chances that weren’t quite followed through, but as the game wore on, you could see the nerves begin to show. Whenever Tunisia got through the midfield, they were faced with an unfamiliar and untested defence. This will be something Southgate will have to look at for when England face off against Belgium; the talent of the English forwards are self evident, but that won’t be enough when going up against more experienced teams.
When Tunisia broke away down the right wing with Fakhreddine Ben Youssef sitting in the box, Man City’s Kyle Walker misjudged a swing of his arm, bringing the Tunisian forward down. With a penalty given, and despite a mighty effort from Everton’s Jordan Pickford, Ferjani Sassi put the ball in the bottom right to make it 1-1.
The Second Half
With the lead gone, the old England began to reveal itself as they were faced with the prospect of getting up after being hit, a regular sticking point of the past few years. This wasn’t helped by the plaque of flies that harassed the teams all through the match, as well as some dirty tactics on the part of the Tunisian squad, with Harry Kane wrestled to the ground either side of half-time.
— Premier League Stuff (@EPLStuff) June 18, 2018
Questions are sure to be raised as to why the referee didn’t question this, or why the much touted VAR technology wasn’t consulted, but there were still bright spots to be found. The various set pieces were still in play, and Kieran Trippier was putting in a prodigious effort in the midfield, creating half a dozen chances throughout the game. In a team dominated by striking talent, its always encouraging to see players in his position playing an integral role.
With substitutions bringing on Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Marcus Rashford producing a few moments of sparkle in the second half, but nothing that amounted in a goal, it looked like England would be conceding their first World Cup fixture of 2018 with a predictably underwhelming draw. But as the 4 minutes of extra time ticked by, following a corner kick, Harry Kane placed himself perfectly in the box to head the ball into the bottom left of the net, bringing the score to 2-1 in the death of the game.
Tony Adams on England's #WorldCup chances:
"I'm really worried about these Tottenham players. I don't think they know how to win.”
“They're very good players, but at certain points in seasons and tournaments, you have to step up."
— Last Word On Spurs🎙 (@LastWordOnSpurs) June 19, 2018
What can Gareth Southgate learn and what does this game mean for Spurs players?
This match further validated Southgate’s commitment to bold, inventive and attacking football, but it also highlighted the need for a wider focus within the squad. The past three games have been against broadly inexperienced teams, but when they face off against Belgium later this month for example, the whole team will need to be on point, defenders included.
There’s hope there however, particularly facilitated by the three Spurs players on pitch for this game. Kieran Trippier excelled all through the match, facilitating chance after chance in a remarkably solid performance, just what the strikers need to do what they do best. The proven partnership of Alli and Kane, didn’t get to stretch its legs this time, with Alli hampered by a groin injury through much of the game, but with two goals in his debut World Cup match, Kane is certainly in with a chance of being one of the tournaments stand out players.
All in all, England can be proud of this performance. This young squad needed a strong opener and going into their next match against Panama as the favourites as well will but them in good stead to face a talented Belgian side come the end of the month.