Harry Kane saved England from disappointment with a late winner as Tunisia were beaten 2-1 in their opening group game of the World Cup.
England started well and took the lead through the England captain, but a controversial penalty from Ferjani Sassi had Tunisia level at half-time.
The second half was a struggle for the Three Lions, but Kane popped up in the 91st minute to seal a win and keep momentum flying.
For the first time in a few tournaments, the feeling around the England camp was good. They’d looked sharp in the friendlies and expectations were being kept low in all the right ways. The good feeling continued as England started the game with confidence and a point to prove.
It took three minutes to carve Tunisia open but a superb save kept the Three Lions out. Dele Alli showed great industry to nick the ball away from a defender and the ball fell perfectly to Jesse Lingard from ten yards out, but Mouez Hassen stuck out a brave left leg to deflect the shot away for a corner.
England would not be denied for long though. With the likes of Harry Maguire and John Stones coming up from the back, set-pieces were a real threat and it was Ashley Young that led to the goal. Stones rose well and powered his header towards the goal only to be denied by Hassen with another top save. Fortunately for England, captain Kane was on hand to slam home his first ever World Cup goal.
Hassen was impressing in the Tunisia goal, but his night would be cut short after 14 minutes. He went down after an earlier collision with Lingard and left the field in tears, replaced by Ben Mustapha.
It should have been 2-0 after 24 minutes as England were playing the best football of the tournament so far. Ashley Young came inside and swung in a brilliant cross that fell perfectly for the unmarked Lingard at the back post, but the Manchester United attacker couldn’t get a clean connection on the volley and the ball flew off target. It was a big chance in the game and the miss proved vital as Tunisia pulled level moments later.
It was a refereeing decision that will split opinion but as Kyle Walker collides his arm with Ben Yousseff’s face, the official was in no doubt but to point the spot. It looked soft, but the debate must be of why Walker was being so reckless. Sassi didn’t hang around to debate it though and coolly tucked the penalty away from the out-stretched arm of Jordan Pickford into the bottom corner.
Gareth Southgate’s side needed to respond and they should have had a penalty of their own in the 39th minute. Young’s corner went towards the back post and as Alli flicked the ball onto the crossbar, Kane was being wrestled to the ground by Dylan Bron. It was a stonewall penalty and the lack of a decision is made more absurd when VAR took a lengthy look and decided to go against England.
There was still time in the first half for the woodwork to be hit again. Kieran Trippier’s great pass into the channel released Lingard who poked it way from Mustapha but was disappointed to see the ball clip the post on its way out for a goal kick.
For all England’s zip and speed in the first period, the second half proved to be a long and arduous affair. Tunisia were well-instructed and tough to break down with the likes of Lingard and Alli struggling to get involved. It looked as though England will fall the way of Brazil and Argentina before them by struggling to a draw in the opening game, but Kane had other ideas.
It was the first minute of injury time that broke Tunisian hearts and it was another ste-piece that did the trick. Trippier’s corner was flicked on by Maguire and with a swivel of the hips and a twister header, the Tottenham striker had his second goal and manager Southgate was dancing on the touchline in a rare show of passion.
It was a vital moment for England who got the win they needed, but a better performance will be needed when they come up against better teams later in the tournament.