Harry Kane double ensures England defeat Tunisia in World Cup opener


Harry Kanes late winner gave England the perfect start to their World Cup campaign, the captain scoring twice in a 2-1 win over Tunisia

The clock had ticked past 90 minutes. Harry Kane was there and, in that position, Gareth Southgate could not have wished for any other player to be primed inside the penalty area. An old English routine: the corner, the flick-on, the back-post header and, suddenly, Englands opening game of the World Cup had its happy ending.

It was deserved, too, bearing in mind the pattern of the game and the long spells when it had been threatening to finish with a churning sense of dj vu. England, after all, had managed only five wins in their opening fixtures of every World Cup and European Championship since 1950.

They had outplayed Tunisia without outscoring them and, at 1-1, a draw would have pained Southgate, to say the least, given the number of chances his team had passed up to make it a more straightforward evening.

But when has it ever been straightforward with England? Kane had already scored from one corner and the team had played so thrillingly it was bordering on absurd thatthe game had reached the end of normal time without them being in a winning position.

Tunisias equaliser had come from a penalty that could be described, at best, as generous or from Englands perspective, utterly needless and for a long time it seemed as though Southgates players did not have the wit or creativity to turn their superiority into the hard currency of goals.

Enter Kane. His late, twisting header means England can qualify for the knockout stages by defeating Panama in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday and the final game of GroupG against Belgium may not be so relevant. England can therefore leave Volgograd reflecting on a hugely satisfying evening, full of drama and incident, and nobody can possibly argue the result was unjust. England were the better team by some distance, even if they did play with everyonesnerves.

Quick guide

Tunisia player ratings

Tunisia (4-3-2-1)

Mouez Hassen Denied Lingard and was unlucky after his save from Stones rebounded to Kane, before injury forced him off early. 6

Dylan Bronn Good marauding runs down the right flank by the wing back but sloppy defending. 6

Yassine Meriah Couple of decent tackles in first half overshadowed by a hopeless backpass and manhandling of Kane. 5

Syam Ben Youssef Excellent tackle to deny Kane in the second half but could not keep hold of the striker in the end. 6

Ali Maloul Coped well with Englands wide men, not much opportunity to show his setpiece ability. 6

Fakhreddine Ben Youssef Made the most of being hit by Walkers flailing arm for the penalty but his manager will not have minded the theatrics. 6

Ellyes Skhiri The French-born defensive midfielder a recent recruit to starting XI, struggled to assert himself. 5

Ferjani Sassi Good penalty to even things up but lucky to get away with a rugby tackle on Kane in the box. 6

Nam Sliti Tunisias most naturally talented attacker did well with ball at his feet, frustrating England with inventive play. 7

Anice Badri Quick feet, did not get much service and caught in possession several times. 6

Wahbi Khazri Squandered the chances he had, hitting one so high it may have flown over the Motherland Calls statue. 5

Subs Farouk Ben Mustapha (for Hassen 15) 6, Mohamed Amine Ben Amor (for Sliti 74) 6, Saber Khalifa (for Khazri 85) 6

Ratings by Martha Kelner.

Southgate certainly kept to his word that his players would deliver fluid, energetic performances with an emphasis on attack. They were quick to the ball, slick with their passing and attacked with so much adventure, particularly in the first half, that there were countless occasions when they outnumbered their opponents at the back.

The pressure on Tunisia was almost unremitting and, even ignoring for a moment Kanes goals, it must have been hugely encouraging for Southgate to see the vibrancy of his team, the number of chances they concocted and the desire of the midfieldersto break into the opposition penalty area.

Unfortunately for Southgate, there was also a reminder here of Englands recurring ability to make life more difficult for themselves than necessary. On that front nothing has changed. It was difficult to keep a count of the number of chances not just half-chances but wonderful openings England totted up throughout the night.

How much less stressful everything might have been, for instance, if England had been more ruthless inside the opening few minutes.

Quick guide

England player ratings

England (3-3-2-2)

Jordan Pickford Only real test for the 24yearold was penalty on 35 minutes to which he got fingertips. 6

Kyle Walker At fault for the penalty, with foul on Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. A soft decision but naive defending. Booked. 5

John Stones Should have scored with a header in first half and lost concentration at keymoments. 6

Harry Maguire Assured passing but lost ball in dangerous areas and would have been punished by a better side. 6

Kieran Trippier Lovely balls whipped in from the right and caused Tunisia problems with pinpoint delivery from set pieces. 8

Jordan Henderson Preferred to Eric Dier and gave a good account of himself in socalled midfield pivotrole. 7

Ashley Young A few incisive deliveries into the box and oldest player in England squad set up the first goal. 7

Jesse Lingard A litany of missed chances as he failed to make Tunisia pay for Englands early dominance. 6

Dele Alli Tottenham forward looked lethargic at times, whether through injury or lack of fitness. 6

Raheem Sterling Sparky in the first half but the question mark over his finishing ability remains. 6

Harry Kane Kept cool to head in Englands winner his second goal and composed despite being repeatedly fouled in the area. 8

Subs Marcus Rashford (for Sterling 68) 6, Ruben Loftus-Cheek (for Alli 80) 7, Eric Dier (for Lingard 90)

Ratings by Martha Kelner.

An offside flag spared Sterlings embarrassment with an open-goal miss after four minutes. It was a fairly staggering moment, all the same. Yet in fairness to Sterling he was not the only England player to be guilty of poor finishing during a wild, breathless opening half.

One by one, the chances came and went. Jesse Lingard had a golden opportunity, at 1-0, to double Englands lead and, later on, prodded a shot against a post.

John Stones wasted a gilt-edged chance shortly after Tunisias penalty, with Dele Allis looping back-header being turned against the crossbar moments earlier, and there was some splendid goalkeeping from Mouez Hassen before he was forced off with a shoulder injury.

Harry Kane scores the late winner. Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Hassen had stopped Lingard from giving England the lead after only twominutes and Tunisias goalkeeper was unlucky for Kanes first goal, 11 minutes in, when Ashley Young delivered the corner and Stones showed great desire to get to the ball first. Hassen clawed away Stones header but the ball fell kindly for Kane and he turned in the rebound from close range.

All of this seemed a far cry from the last time England were seen in a major competition, namely the ordeal against Iceland in Euro 2016. Southgates menset off like a team in a hurry. They have had to be patient, with six of the other World Cup groups already under way,and it quickly became apparent they were determined to make a favourable impression.

Once they had the lead, however, they were far too slack in letting Tunisia back into the match through a combination of penalty-box misses, some bad luck and the penalty that Kyle Walker gave away for blocking off Fakhredinne Ben Youssef in the 34th minute.

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England are entitled to be aggrieved by the decision of the Colombian referee, Wilmar Roldn, and the exaggerated agony of the Tunisia player to create the deception. Equally it should be a lesson for Walker that in the modern international game it is taking a risk to jut out a trailing arm when an opponent is in close proximity.

Walker has a habit of disrupting players this way and on this occasion it backfired. Ferjani Sassi took the penalty, beating Jordan Pickford to the goalkeepers right. And England were back level again in a game they had been controlling.

They should have won a penalty of their own when Kane was pulled to the floor in the same incident that led to Stones firing wide and, after the interval, England continued to pressforward.

Sterling, with only two goals now in 38 England appearances, was taken off in that period and his replacement, Marcus Rashford, quickly started to threaten. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who came on after Alli complained about soreness in a thigh, also had a positive impact and, importantly, England kept going.

Even when the ball was not running for them, they persevered. And then, finally, came the decisive corner in the first minute of stoppage time. Kieran Trippier put the ball into the penalty area. Harry Maguire won the first header. And Kane was there.

England v Tunisia

Read more here: http://www.theguardian.com/us


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