Harry Kane Rescues England with Late Goal to Defeat Tunisia in World Cup Opener

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistJune 18, 2018

England's Harry Kane, left, celebrates his winning goal with England's Ashley Young during the group G match between Tunisia and England at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Volgograd Arena in Volgograd, Russia, Monday, June 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Frank Augstein/Associated Press

England made a stuttered start to their 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign but beat Tunisia 2-1 at the Volgograd Arena on Monday to move up to second in Group G thanks to a stoppage-time winner from Harry Kane.

The Tottenham Hotspur striker bookended a heroic performance and scored either side of a Ferjani Sassi equaliser from the penalty spot, netting a 91st-minute winner as Gareth Southgate's side clinched three points in shaky fashion.  

Belgium sent a statement to their Group G rivals after they thumped Panama 3-0 in the earlier kick-off to move to the summit of the pool.

          

Belgium Will Love Their Chances to Win Group G

After dishing out a much more comprehensive defeat of Panama earlier on Monday, Belgium's day likely got a lot brighter when they saw England labour to victory against the Tunisians.

Despite the early suggestions in their play that England could stride to victory in style, their fizz swiftly simmered after Kane's opening strike, and TV chef Simon Majumdar illustrated their habit of going flat:

Still, it was sufficient to wrap up the three points thanks to a late intervention from Kane, but Belgium will nevertheless look at England's struggles with some amount of glee.

This came after the Red Devils were initially slow against Panama themselves, except they rarely looked like conceding and netted three second-half goals in what was a more relaxed victory, via Fox Soccer (U.S. only):

Belgium have their own test against Tunisia on Saturday, which will serve as a valuable indicator of where their talents match up against England, seen as their biggest competition for the Group G perch.

What's more, blogger Liam Canning suggested Romelu Lukaku will only become more of a menace as the tournament goes on, a scary prospect for England after he scored twice in their result on Monday:

Comedian Paddy McGuinness noted Roberto Martinez's side as England's biggest Group G concern prior to the pool getting up and running on Monday:

Hopes for England were quietly growing before the Tunisia clash, with Gareth Southgate's side earning some praise for having a more understated approach than previous squads, but the end product was all too familiar.

Belgium will have considered themselves favourite for Group G's top spot coming into the competition, and their confidence won't have been dented after watching England get their first taste of action in Russia.

        

Southgate Should Take Walker Out of Central Defence After Gaffe

The experiment of moving Kyle Walker to centre-back had been largely successful before the World Cup, with Manchester City's mercurial man impressing there in recent friendlies against Italy, Nigeria and the Netherlands.

But there was little denying the converted full-back's ill-informed hand in conceding the penalty after a rogue elbow in the face of an incoming Tunisian opponent as enough to convince the referee, via Fox Soccer (U.S. only):

During the broadcast, BBC pundit Alan Shearer attempted to defend Walker, arguing his Tunisian marker had run into the Englishman's elbow, but colleague Rio Ferdinand, a former England centre-back and captain, gave a wiser judgement.

Walker was facing toward his own goal and looked doubtful under the aerial pressure, his elbow enough to convince broadcaster Jan Aage Fjortoft of his guilt in the offence:

Lord Alan Sugar and reporter Mike Trudell were each critical of the former Spurs star, whose moment of madness would have cost England a dear two points were it not for Kane:

That moment could have been Walker's sole mistake, and it should still convince Southgate his experiment is too risky to persevere with, particularly when a more established central defender sits on the bench in Gary Cahill.

Chelsea's season may not have been a huge success as they finished fifth in the Premier League, but Cahill's comfort in central defence could be a crucial change to the XI moving forward. Walker has his own positives in the position, but fluffed lines such as Monday's error can lay waste to a tournament.

Familiar Problems Plague England Despite Kane's Heroics

Three points to their name, regardless of how they came about or how tight the match was, will give England cause for relief, but no celebrations should paper over the fact England's win was far harder than it should have been.

After barraging the enemy goal in the first 10 minutes and seeing Tunisia's starting goalkeeper, Mouez Hassen, taken off with injury, Southgate must have thought he was dreaming. Kane only helped encourage that when he powered home their first, via Fox Soccer (U.S. only):

The Three Lions had 18 shots on goal altogether but had seen eight of those after 31 minutes, per WhoScored.com, a testament to the fast start they made in Volgograd.

Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli were among those who should have seen efforts cross the line in the first quarter of the match, but statistician Michael Cox bemoaned their lack of accuracy:

It's only too fitting that Kane was the example to follow then. All three of his attempts hit the target and two found the back of the net, telling for a man who's just scored a career-high 41 goals for Tottenham this past season.

If any player among the England camp has the composure to finish clutch opportunities like that, it's Kane, who showed a cool head from a corner to prod in the late winner (United States only):

But it's clear not all figures among the camp have that cool, a stigma that's affected England stars at previous World Cups and major tournaments and a missing piece of the puzzle that could undo them in Russia.

It's clear they have a very literal game-changer in Kane, but until the rest of the squad start performing their own jobs with the same efficacy, this England team risks collapsing in similar circumstance to previous squads.

       

What's Next?

England have a six-day turnaround before they face Panama on Sunday, while Tunisia have a slightly shorter respite and meet Belgium on Saturday.

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