Harry Kane scored an injury-time winner as England finally put Tunisia to the sword in their opening match in Group G.
Such was the confidence and quality of their start, England could easily have been three or four goals to the good by the time Harry Kane gave them an 11th minute lead, finishing emphatically from close-range after being first to react to a parried save by Tunisian goalkeeper Mouez Hassen from John Stones’ powerful goal-bound header.
For the first twenty minutes or so, Tunisia were simply overwhelmed as England, prompted by fast passing interchanges and excellent movement, attacked in waves, and Lingard alone might have had a hat-trick. As the match approached the half-hour mark, however, Tunisia slowly began to get a foothold in the game and were rewarded, somewhat fortuitously, with an equaliser in the 35th minute when Kyle Walker, defending a whipped-in cross from the right, was adjudged to have elbowed Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. The resulting penalty was duly dispatched by Ferjani Sassi, despite Jordan Pickford diving the right way.
England created several more good chances before the end of the first half but struggled to find the same attacking fluency in the second, and for long periods it looked as though their domination would go unrewarded. However, two good tactical changes by Gareth Southgate that saw Marcus Rashford replace Raheem Sterling in the 68th minute, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek brought on for Delle Alli in the 80th, gave England the added urgency they so desperately needed, and their endeavour and resilience were rewarded in the 91st minute when Harry Kane found space in the box to head in at the near-post after the ball was knocked on from a Kieran Trippier corner.
The relief was palpable, but it was no more than England deserved having dominated the game throughout. Tunisia, ranked 22nd in the world and with recent creditable performances against Spain and Portugal, are clearly a proficient footballing team but had only one goal in mind: to spoil England’s fluency by defending deep, breaking up play and disputing every minor decision. England’s efforts were not helped by a truly awful referee in the shape of Colombia’s Wilmar Roldan, who somehow contrived to miss two blatant fouls on Harry Kane that would not have been out of place on a rugby pitch and which ought to have resulted in penalties.
England, who face Panama on Sunday, will take great confidence from this performance and the first half-hour in particular. If they can be more clinical in front of goal – Lingard and Sterling take note – and sustain their energy for longer, they have the potential to go far in this tournament.
Man of the Match: Harry Kane
Creditable mention: Kieran Trippier.