Five days after the World Cup kicked off, England got their tournament underway with an injury-time 2-1 victory over Tunisia in Group G.
It was Gareth Southgate’s first game in charge at a major tournament and although there were a few defensive slips, the Three Lions picked up all three points through two Harry Kane goals.
Kane opened the scoring – the 24-year-old’s first goal at a World Cup – after 11 minutes when he followed up from a John Stones header. But after Tunisia levelled the score through Ferjani Sassi’s penalty, the Three Lions’ performance wasn’t as convincing as the opening 20 minutes had promised.
Gareth Southgate’s side only managed two shots on target in the second half, but it was the very last one which was made to count.
— Stats Zone ⚽️ (@StatsZone) June 18, 2018
Here are five things we picked out from England’s 2-1 win over Tunisia in Volgograd.
Welcome to the World Cup, Harry
The Spurs forward had 4.71 efforts on goal and it took him just ten minutes to register his first World Cup shot. Forty seconds later he had his first goal.
Ashley Young’s corner was met majestically by Stones and while Moez Hassen did brilliantly to keep it out Kane was there to add the finish.
At Euro 2016, according to WhoScored, the then 22-year-old had 13 shots throughout the tournament, with just four on target. He left France without a goal and will be delighted to get off the mark for England so quickly this summer.
With a confident Kane spearheading the Three Lions attack, the rest of the world should be worried.
Lingard outshines Sterling
Manchester City forward Sterling enjoyed a stellar 2017/18 campaign and would’ve undoubtedly been confident ahead of the tournament in Russia.
However, although England started like a house on fire, the 23-year-old struggled to make his mark against the African side.
At half-time Sterling had been dispossessed three times, more than any other player on the park, whereas Jesse Lingard was very active in the final third, with four attempts on goal.
One forced Hassen into a wonderful save in the opening minutes and the three others he could and perhaps should have converted.
Sterling, meanwhile, finished the half without a shot on goal and all eight of his nine completed passes were deep in the midfield, away from the danger area.
Things didn’t improve in the second half and with just over 20 minutes remaining Marcus Rashford replaced the City star.
Sterling won his 39th cap for England against Tunisia and yet he has only two goals to his name for his country. Southgate’s biggest dilemma this summer is how to find a way for the forward to replicate his club form at international level.
Walker learns the hard way
One of Southgate’s boldest tactical decisions as England boss is playing Kyle Walker, arguably the Premier League’s best right-back, as the right-sided central defender in his back three.
It means the former Tottenham Hotspur man’s defensive skills are tested far more often with England than with Manchester City, where he spends the majority of games attacking.
While he looked comfortable in the role for much of the game, one error did prove costly.
After John Stones had pushed forward, Walker slotted into the middle of the defence to cover. And he was caught out.
A speculative ball from the right looked to pick out striker Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. The 26-year-old smartly ran into Walker’s elbow and the referee pointed to the penalty spot.
Former centre-back, Rio Ferdinand made the point during BBC’s coverage to say the former Spurs man had gotten his body position all wrong and this could have easily been avoided.
Almost like he isn’t used to playing in that role. It’s one thing to look fantastic going forward, but to go deep in tournaments, you need a defensive solidity across the midfield and defence. England’s opening game, although they won 2-1 in the end, it showed there is work still to do.
To suggest English fans were skeptical about VAR going into the World Cup would be very kind to the new video technology.
And on Monday we had examples of both the good and the bad which it brings. Sweden benefitted earlier in the day when South Korea were stopped in their tracks and the game brought back to rightly award the Scandinavians a penalty.
Andreas Granqvist stepped up and scored the only goal of the game and there’s little doubt Sweden supporters have been raving about VAR for the rest of the day.
England, quite rightly, won’t be happy with the decisions which went against them. There was no review of Walker’s elbow on Ben Youssef, which leaned on the softer side of decisions given.
Then, on two occasions, Kane was wrestled to the ground from corners without the referee and his assistants or opting to award what would’ve been valid spot-kicks.
If the VAR team were watching the replays, there was no reasonable excuse as to why the game wasn’t stopped and England weren’t awarded a penalty.
England’s set-piece danger
Rather than their stunning free-flowing, counter-attacking football, England’s one advantage in this tournament could be from set-pieces. Twice, for both goals, Southgate’s centre-backs won the initial ball from a corner and Kane was there to apply the finish.
Whether it be free-kicks, penalties or corners, this World Cup has been dominated by the dead ball. England may not have shown any level of talent like Cristiano Ronaldo or Alexsandr Golovin, but they have the physical threat to strike fear in the heart of any nation.
Panama are no physical slouches, but their organisation against Belgium wasn’t great and they will be worried about the next game.
If England qualify for the knockout stages, their opponents will want to make sure they put in extra time on the training field to combat this threat.