England has finally started a major tournament with a win, the first time since 2006 when they beat Paraguay 1-0 in Frankfurt at the World Cup. That game wasn’t easy, and neither was this match against Tunisia. England needed two Harry Kane strikes to negotiate past an uninspiring Tunisia side, who looked like they were trying to win an Oscar next March, rather than a football match.
Although, England started brightly and should have been at least 3-0 up when Harry Kane scored the first of his brace; a good delivery from Ashley Young at a corner resulted in Kane’s predatory instincts gifting him his first goal at a major tournament. It was also one of the few corners where Kane wasn’t being wrestled to the floor by a Tunisian defender. The goal seemed to settle England’s nerves, despite Harry Maguire forgetting to pass to an English player from time to time.
Tunisia didn’t get a foothold in the game, until a moment of madness from the referee meant that they were awarded a penalty. Kyle Walker was adjudged to have elbowed Fakhreddine Ben Youssef in the face, but you would have thought from his reaction that he had been hit over the head by a cricket bat, it was rather amusing to see him spring back up as soon as he knew that the penalty had been awarded. It was a soft penalty and even more painful to see Jordan Pickford dive the right way but watch the ball evade his reach and nestle in the net.
This was indicative of Tunisia’s game; they seemed to hit the floor with the faintest touch from an England player, that or those Russian midges pack one hell of a bite! Unfortunately, the ref was deceived by many of these dives and over-reactions, giving away free kicks when there was barely cause for one, and when Kane was dumped to the floor in the penalty box not long after Tunisia’s penalty, the referee did not even consult VAR, despite the blatant foul. Everyone watching in the stadium saw it, everyone at home saw it, so I don’t understand how those employed as VAR officials missed it.
This became a common theme throughout the game, and led to it becoming bitty and a frustrating watch. Coupled with this, copious amount of fouls committed by Tunisia went unpunished, with Tunisia finishing the match with a commendable 14 fouls to zero cards, an impressive achievement in professional football. This dubious refereeing is cause for concern, as it was stated that referees would be clamping down on diving, theatrics and box-grappling at this tournament, but if this game is anything to go by it is business as usual. Colombian referee Wilmar Roldán had a poor game, he didn’t control the tempo and when given numerous chances to book Tunisian players for dissent or constant fouling, he didn’t. His performance was summed up when, in the last moments of normal time, Kieren Trippier was attempting to take a free kick but a Tunisian player was stood directly in front of the ball, and when told by Roldán to move back to the required 10 yards, he did not. It took about 30 seconds for the player to retreat, and he didn’t even retreat the lawful distance when the free kick was taken.
Kane’s header for his second goal was sublime; it was caressed just inside the keepers near post and gave England the win in added time. However, England can’t rely on Kane to bail them out of a hole every time, other players need to step up and be counted, Lingard and Sterling should practice their finishing after their performances today, if they had buried their chances then England would’ve won by a much more comfortable margin.
Overall, England will have to perform better in their next two games if they want to make it to the knockout stages. Panama will play in a similar fashion to Tunisia; they’ll stick 11 men behind the ball and aim to grab a goal on the counter or from a penalty. England will also need to learn how to break down teams who do this, bar the first 20-30 minutes England looked pedestrian and lacked a cutting edge until the introduction of Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, their directness put the Tunisian defence on the back foot and meant that England could build some momentum. For England’s next game against Panama, I would like Rashford to start just off of Kane, and for Loftus-Cheek to be introduced earlier. Also, Jamie Vardy would have terrorised the Tunisian defence, chasing down every ball and may have added some impetus to England’s attack and taken the burden off of Kane. England now have 6 days to rest and prepare for another tough game where they will need to be more clinical and decisive, whereas Tunisia have 5 days to look at themselves in the mirror and realise that they are footballers and not actors.