England survived a scare to beat Tunisia 2-1 in their opening game of the 2018 World Cup, with captain Harry Kane saving the day courtesy of a late winner.
Gareth Southgate’s youthful XI started brightly, with Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling threatening the Tunisian goal early on – the latter making a bit of a hash of a straightforward opening.
The opening goal would come on 11 minutes after sustained pressure on the Tunisian backline, with Kane tapping in from close-range after ‘keeper Mouez Hassen has saved from John Stones.
Soon after, Hassen saw his evening cut short due to injury, with Farouk Ben Mustapha replacing him between the posts for Tunisia.
The substitute goalie was kept busy, as England pushed for another goal.
However, it was the North Africans who would score next, after Kyle Walker was adjudged to have fouled Fakhreddine Ben Youssef via a stray arm in the box.
Ferjani Sassi duly converted the resulting spot-kick to give Tunisia a barely-deserved equaliser.
England then had a strong shout for a penalty themselves, with Kane rugby-tackled to the ground. However, the officials on and off the pitch weren’t convinced.
Just before the break, the Three Lions almost took the lead again, only for Lingard’s poked effort to hit the post and go out of play.
In the second-half, England’s pace and intensity dropped as their opponents sat back.
Another bit of wrestling in the Tunisian box saw Kane appeal for penalty yet again, with the same response from the referee.
On 68 minutes, Southgate sent on Marcus Rashford for Sterling as the Three Lions looked for a winner.
The game looked to be heading for a disappointing draw, until, with the game ticking over into injury time, an unmarked Kane headed home Harry Maguire’s flick from a corner.
The goal, a cracking header from the Spurs man, would seal the win for England and break the hearts of the Tunisian players.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 18, 2018
Overall, Southgate will be relatively pleased by the performance of his charges, despite a lack of potency (excluding Kane) in attack.
Maguire excelled as a forward-thinking defender while Kane lived up to his star-billing.
However, if the Three Lions are to enjoy a prolonged campaign in Russia, they’ll need to add a clinical edge to their game.
England play Panama next on Sunday, while Tunisia face Belgium on the Saturday.