In England’s dismal Euro 2016 exit at the hands of Iceland, one of the most frustrating thing was watching Harry Kane take corners — they drifted over the players waiting in the box, far out of their reach again and again.
When England put Kane at the receiving end of those corners, look what a difference it makes — a 91st-minute winner to clinch the Three Lions first ever victory in the opening game of a World Cup since 2006.
On a sweltering Monday night in Volgograd, England escaped with a 2-1 win over Tunisia to gain all three points and sit second in Group G. Over the course of the game, Kane and Co were the more dominant side in every sense - they enjoyed most of the possession and space, they created more chances and they threatened every time they moved forward with the ball.
Kane’s last-gasp header has not only put England in position to qualify for the Round of 16 with a win over Panama, it has also ensured that the optimism and geniality around the England team has not gone up in flames.
Had the match ended at a 1-1 draw, the mood would have been very different today — the tabloids would have been screaming for Raheem Sterling’s head, an inexperienced, young side would have been plagued by self-doubt and a general air of “oh England never change” would have lingered.
Instead, the English dressing room would be jubilant right now, with the narrative shifting to how this is indeed a different England side.
What worked for England
Coach Gareth Southgate started with a 3-5-2 as was expected, with Kane and Sterling leading from the front and Jordan Henderson anchoring the midfield. Harry Maguire, Kyle Walker and John Stones formed the three-man defence with Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier on the wings. Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard brought energy and enthusiasm to the middle.
England started on the perfect note, attacking from the word go. They had a chances to score at least twice in the opening 10 minutes but were thwarted by the Tunisian goalkeeper, Mouez Hassan.
The breakthrough came for England in the 11th minute when Young’s well-struck corner was headed towards the goal by Henderson; Hassan got a hand to the ball to keep it out but the England captain was quick to tap the rebound in. Kane got his first-ever goal at a major tournament and England had made the best start of any of the big-name sides at the World Cup so far.
While Kane was adjudged the Man of the Match and stole headlines for his two goals and leading performance as the team’s captain, the most valuable player for England on the night was Trippier. His runs down the flank and his deliveries into the box were the main source of threat against Tunisia.
He created as many chances as the rest of the England team (six) and it was his pin-point delivery from the corner that led to the second goal. The goal also highlighted England’s preparation in taking set-pieces — it was a classic move as Maguire flicked Trippier’s cross into the box to the far post where an unmarked Kane fully extended his neck muscles to guide the ball home.
6 – Kieran Trippier created six goalscoring chances versus Tunisia – only one player has created more in a single World Cup game for England since 1966 (David Beckham, 7 vs Trinidad and Tobago in 2006). Delivery. #WorldCup #Eng pic.twitter.com/NgI3EnZ79L
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 19, 2018
Henderson also did well from the base of the midfield and his superb passing range was on full display in the first half. In the second half, when England looked tired and careless, Southagte’s substitutes Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek came on to provide some much-needed impetus and spark.
Loftus-Cheek came on in the 79th minute to replace Alli and all the pressure that he put on Tunisia’s parked bus may see him start a game over the next two weeks.
What didn’t work for England
England's strong start should have easily seen them lead by two to three goals in the opening 20 minutes had it not been for their profligacy. In the second minute, Alli missed a clear chance from close range. Two minutes later, Sterling couldn’t tap a crossing pass into an open goal.
Later, Henderson's header bounced just wide while Lingard’s poke past the charging substitute goalkeeper, Farouk Ben Mustapha, rolled slowly into the post and rebounded outside. Even Stones fumbled on another wide-open shot from 10 yards out.
England were made to pay for all their wasted opportunities in the 35th minute when Walker put his arm up in the face of Tunisia's striker Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Referee Wilmar Roldan didn't think twice before blowing his whistle and pointing to the penalty spot. Ferjani Sassi stepped up and nailed the ball into the left corner, past a diving Jordan Pickford.
The Tunisia goal took the wind out of England's sails and for the remainder of the first half, they looked panicked and scattered. If the first half was defined by England's wastefulness, the second half had an eerie familiarity of tiresome and dreary football from the English side.
Tunisia increased their numbers in defence to strangle England's flow and for 45 minutes of regular time, England were unable to create a breakthrough. Both of England's goals came through set-pieces and Southgate will need to address that lull that overcame England in the second half.
Varying moods of VAR
The penalty given against England was a soft one as Sassi made the most of Walker’s swinging left arm and the video assistant referee (VAR) did not overturn Roldan's decision. However, it was perplexing to see that VAR did not suggest that Roldan review at least a couple of challenges that were made on Kane.
Kane was rugby-tackled every time England had a corner or a free-kick and was twice wrestled to the ground by Tunisia defenders. England had enough cause for two penalty claims that were very similar to the one that was awarded to Tunisia.
Five days into the World Cup and the consensus around VAR has mostly been positive. However, the match at Volgograd highlighted why this system is still not perfect and needs fine-tuning. In most cases, VAR has not gone against the decision taken by the referees on the pitch but on Monday, VAR should have interfered and advised Roldan to review his calls. The officials had said that they are trying to cut down on "grappling" in the sport and the England game was a clear missed opportunity.
Updated Date: Jun 19, 2018 20:27 PM