It was by no means a perfect performance but nonetheless felt like a hugely significant win for England against Tunisia on Tuesday night. It was only the third time England have won their opening game at a World Cup, and Harry Kane’s brace was the first by a Three Lions player at the tournament since Gary Lineker in 1990.
Throw in some incredibly entertaining football during the first half and the mental resilience to bag a stoppage time winner, and there’s plenty of positives for England to take into the rest of their World Cup campaign. We look at the three most significant…
England created 14 chances in total against Tunisia including four ‘big chances’ – the most of any team at the tournament so far. The problem was of course putting them away and that’s something England will need to work on before they get to the knockout rounds; more than anything else, early tournament nerves appeared to be the biggest culprit here.
The good news though, is that the Three Lions are playing exciting and productive football, especially when Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard push on from midfield and link up with Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling, or when the two wing-backs come into play on the sides of the penalty area. Southgate’s put an incredibly offensive-minded side together and that’s already showing in their creativity if not their efficiency in front of goal.
Somewhat ironically considering how impressive England were in terms of chance creation and playing on the deck, their best moments and their two goals came from set pieces. Whether it was Manchester United’s Ashley Young or Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier, practically every dead ball delivery seemed to create problems and John Stones, Harry Maguire, Jordan Henderson and Kane have clearly been working hard on making nuisances of themselves in the box and timing their runs off each other.
It actually bodes incredibly well for England’s success at the tournament, simply because set pieces tend to be so important – especially in the latter stages. If the Three Lions can continue to make them count and improve their resilience defensively, they could go on to cause a few upsets.
It may seem a simple point but plenty of previous England sides have quickly resorted to aimless thumps up field as soon as things start to go wrong. The Three Lions seemed to be losing their nerve during delicate moments of the match, but even after Maguire made a few wayward passes out of the back and Kyle Walker incurred that questionable penalty, England continued to play in the same way – keeping faith in Southgate’s system and his philosophy.
In fact, they kept playing that way even in the second half when Tunisia did a much better job of plugging up gaps in the midfield, the only structural change being replacing Raheem Sterling with an out-and-out striker in Marcus Rashford, and eventually the Three Lions got their reward with Kane’s last-minute equaliser. It provided proof that England can get results and play entertaining football, so long as they remain committed to it even when the going gets tough.