Tunisia 1-2 England: 5 things we learned as Captain Kane stars

Gareth Southgate's men left it late to bag all three points, but this was a far more convincing performance than the scoreline might suggest.

REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Finally, five days in and with many millions of thumbs twiddled, England arrived at the 2018 World Cup.

Beyond the shores of Blighty it is likely that few cared too much about the first appearance of the Three Lions in Russia, but for those entrusted with bringing football home, Monday evening doubtless represented catharthis.

That was not solely because England, eventually, won this game 2-1. Rather it was the sight of Gareth Southgate’s side turning up on the big stage and, for once, not being overawed, playing the way they had promised to and refusing to be waylaid by any misfortune that came upon them.

Harry Kane’s brace might be seen in some quarters as having spared England’s blushes but, in truth, he provided them with the least they deserved. Southgate’s men are off and running and they should enjoy that feeling before Sunday’s tussle with Panama. 

Here are five conclusions from a game that put its observers well and truly through the wringer.

  1. 1 This England side can excite

    REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

    We have heard it all before, countless times. England can attack, England can defend, England can win the World Cup.

    Hopes have been built up many times and yet, this time around, such an escalating of expectations has been absent. Much like four years ago in Brazil, the overarching feeling has been that this is an England side rich in potential, but some years away from recognising it.

    If Brazil proved that to be accurate then perhaps Russia might dispel it. This team is by no means the finished article, but their first half of this World Cup showed that they certainly won't depart without showing what they are made of.

    By the half hour mark Southgate's men could feasibly have been four goals to the good, with only wasteful finishing tarnishing a blistering start.

    Though the lack of adventure from their opponents no doubt played a part, it remains that England cannoned out of the blocks in a way that no other side has yet managed in Russia. A scuffed shot from Jesse Lingard in the third minute set the tone, and by the time Kane opened the scoring seven minutes later it was little more than his side deserved.

    England created chances in abundance in the first half, scything their African counterparts open with ease and pouring forward with energy and vigour.

    It will not be so easy against better opposition, but this at least showed the faith Southgate has in the attacking potential of his young side.

  2. 2 Kane's burden must be eased

    REUTERS/Toru Hanai

    Harry Kane made his headed winner in the dying moments look easy. With a sharp turn to his left, the Tottenham Hotspur striker guided his nation to a first victorious opening outing at a major tournament in 12 years.

    Yet, Kane's chance was made to look easy solely because it was he who converted it. Kane effortlessly guided the ball home, much as he had with game's opener, and the contrast between him and his teammates could not have been more evident.

    Where he took his chances without a doubt in his mind, the profligacy of Lingard and Raheem Sterling stood in stark contrast, whilst Dele Alli was unusually muted, and Jamie Vardy never made it off the bench.

    If Kane continues to take his chances in such a manner then England will do well this summer. But to rely solely upon him, the team's captain, is to set a nation up for a fall.

    For all Kane is a supreme finisher, to expect him to shoot England to glory on his own is not only unfair, but fantastical.

  3. 3 Kieran Trippier is key to England's hopes

    REUTERS/Sergio Perez

    When Kyle Walker departed White Hart Lane to join Pep Guardiola's Manchester City project, many in North London were indifferent. Walker, it was felt, had pace in abundance but lacked the positional sense to be a truly top class defender. In Kieran Trippier, Mauricio Pochettino's side had the perfect replacement.

    Walker has confounded critics, developing into a well-rounded player under Guardiola, one who now finds himself on the right-hand side of a central three for England. But Spurs fans' lack of worry has long since been vindicated, such is the excellence of the man who succeeded him.

    Trippier was England's man of the match on Monday evening, even in spite of Kane's match-winning brace. The Tottenham man was relentless down the right, springing forward whenever needed then appearing back in defence with almost superhuman speed.

    With Ashley Young continually cutting inside from the left, Trippier provided England with their main source of width going forward. He was outstanding throughout, and he will be key to this side's hopes.

  4. 4 Tunisia's aims are limited

    REUTERS/Toru Hanai

    Ferjani Sassi's 35th minute penalty represented Tunisia's one and only shot on target. That the penalty itself came as a result of a highly contentious decision was telling.

    Nabil Maaloul's men, unbeaten in qualifying, showed little by way of adventure.

    With Wahbi Khazri as quiet up front as he was when relegated with Sunderland just over a year ago, the Eagles of Carthage struggled to make their mark. Their goal came entirely out of the blue, a flailing Kyle Walker arm presenting them with the chance to draw themselves level.

    That chance was taken, but from thereon they did little to arouse excitement. Maaloul's half-time team talk advised the need to retain a point at all costs; the sight of almost the whole team lining up in a wall against a second half Ashley Young free-kick being the most extreme example.

    Protecting a point was made to look all the more foolish by Kane's late winner.

    Truthfully, for all England were excellent in the opening half hour, Tunisia's equaliser represented an opportunity for them to take the game to their more illustrious counterparts. That they didn't has likely sealed their fate of an early trip home.

  5. 5 VAR remains at the mercy of the subjective

    REUTERS/Sergio Perez

    Leaving aside debates around the penalty awarded to Tunisia, this game represented the first of this World Cup whereby VAR could be seriously questioned.

    Whilst earlier in the day the remote refereeing system had rightly overturned a missed penalty decision for Sweden, here the entire concept was thrown into doubt. Twice Harry Kane found himself wrestled to the floor in the Tunisia penalty box, and twice no whistle nor subsequent review was forthcoming.

    That brings into question just how much benefit the system itself can truly offer. France's penalty on Saturday against Australia, awarded via VAR, was given on the basis of contact that plenty felt to have been insufficient to merit a foul.

    By contrast Kane was mauled to the ground twice and on neither occasion was the on-field referee advised he had made an error.

    The root of the problem lies in the fact that awarding a penalty is a wholly subjective affair. What is a 'stone-waller' to me may well be 'soft' to you. No amount of slow-motion replays will solve that problem.

Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss all the action from Day 5 of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.

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