2018 FIFA World Cup
2018 FIFA World Cup

Six shots on target in the first half, several shots off target which should have been in the back of the net and 1-1 at the break; when the halftime whistle blew in Volgograd between England and Tunisia, seasoned England fans will have nodded their heads and thought it was just about par-for the course.

England began their 2-1 win against Tunisia like a side on a mission to forget recent disappointments and from the start Gareth Southgate’s young guns went for it, using the width of the pitch and playing with pace and style to carve Tunisia apart time after time.

With better finishing they could have been 2-0 ahead before Harry Kane opened the scoring in the 11th minute and with some calmer work in the last third of the pitch, there could have been more goals before Kyle Walker stuck out an unnecessary arm to gift Tunisia an equalizer from the penalty spot, when Jordan Pickford hadn’t been called into action all night.

England could have retaken the lead before halftime: Jesse Lingard’s shot was deflected over, John Stones totally miscued when the goal was at his mercy and Lingard’s quick feet got him to the ball ahead of the Tunisian keeper only for it to hit the post and out for a goal kick.

It had been good, but they had let Tunisia off the hook and the game was in the balance; so the question when England came out for the second half was if this young side had the confidence to go on to claim the win, or whether the ghosts of England’s past failures and the pressure of expectation would take their toll?
And the answer was ‘Yes and No.’

Yes, because they kept on pushing, kept on trying to play the same football they had in the first half and because Tunisia never had half a chance to score against them.

And ‘no’ because’ it was another half of ‘almost and nearly’ and for all their good intentions, England’s final pass was a yard long, the shot two yards wide and the cross deflected so that Tunisia’s substitute keeper, Farouk Ben Mustapha didn’t really have a difficult save to make for all of the pressure.

Harry Kane struggled to get involved and although central defender Harry Maguire was outstanding in the England defense, looking to carry the ball into the heart of the Tunisia half, it was telling that two of the players billed to be stars in Russia; Deli Ali and Raheem Sterling were two of the players substituted by Gareth Southgate with the impressive Marcos Rashford and Ruben Loftus Cheek replacing them.

It was brave of Southgate to take off two big name players and it will be interesting if Rashford and Loftus Cheek start against Panama, but the young England coach has already shown he is no slave to egos and that is positive for his side.

And as for Kane, well we did see him in the second half, scoring the injury time header to seal a vital win. In the 2016 European Championships Kane took the corners, he made it clear where he is more effective in Volgograd.

Looking at Group G, England and Belgium look to be a class above Tunisia and Panama and if things go as expected they will probably play for the leadership on the group on July 28… But as England fans will tell you, things rarely go as expected.

by Paul Giblin

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