Tunisia v England – 5 things we learned…
Patience is a virtue
England never do things the easy way, and as the clock ticked down, fans could be forgiven for getting that sinking feeling all over again.
However, things feel different with Southgate’s talented young side. For once, they refused to panic during a frustrating second half where clear-cut chances were often at a premium. Kane’s late, late goal was justice for an assured opening performance – and a sign of how this team look to have far more resilience compared to the side that wilted against Iceland in Euro 2016.
Kane stakes his claim for the Golden Boot
With two goals already in the bag, and Panama to come, Harry Kane suddenly looks a real contender to walk away with this tournament’s Golden Boot.
The England captain has been waiting to make a real impact on the international stage and showed his ruthless streak in handling England a vital opening game victory. If England can upset the history books to go a long way in this tournament, expect Kane to come very close to Gary Lineker’s Mexico ’86 haul of six goals – the last time an Englishman walked away with the prestigious title.
It’s a squad game…
Bar Kane, England’s squad boasts few players who could realistically fall into the ‘World Class’ category, but one advantage they have over other teams is a well-drilled, intelligent 23-man squad who Southgate can rely upon if Plan A is coming unstuck.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s vital late cameo role, and a vibrant performance from the underrated Kieran Trippier, are an example how a strong group identity is as important as an individual talisman.
Southgate is a calming influence…
One refreshing aspect of last night’s win was the England manager’s faith in his game plan, assured that by playing their natural game, his side would eventually carve out the chance they needed to claim victory. Southgate’s calmness under pressure will only help build confidence in the camp.
Southgate resisted the urge to make wholesale changes early in the second half when Tunisia were holding their own, but the switches he eventually made paid off, injecting fresh energy and inspiration into the side just as they looked as if they were flagging.
The VAR debate isn’t going away…
England’s 50 years of hurt have been littered with controversial exits from tournaments – will dubious VAR calls haunt them in 2018?
It almost did for them last night as the referee overlooked Tunisia’s unsubtle approach to stopping Harry Kane by grappling him at corners. VAR has promise when used correctly, but FIFA still need to find a way to apply the technology consistently across games – or at least explain the process behind decision-making.