Harry Kane’s second goal of the match, coming in the first minute of second-half stoppage time, allowed England to escape with a 2-1 victory over Tunisia in its Group G opener in Volgograd on Monday.
After winning a corner, Kieran Trippier whipped in an outswinger from the right that Harry Maguire nodded to the back post, where an unmarked Kane coolly completed his brace with a header from inside the six-yard box. It prompted a wild celebration and pile-on in the corner as this young Three Lions side left it late after spurning multiple scoring opportunities throughout the contest.
Kane’s other goal came in the 11th minute, stabbing a rebound past Mouez Haseen, who made a spectacular diving save to deny John Stones on a powerful header off a corner by Ashley Young from the left. The ball spilled right to Kane, and the Tottenham striker and England talisman made no mistake by slotting it opposite the prone Hassen next to the right post.
The goal came as part of an opening 20-minute sequence in which the Three Lions tried to run Tunisia off the pitch, and the Eagles of Carthage were lucky to be down only one goal as England had six shots on frame in that stretch. Hassen did well to stop a shot by Jesse Lingard from close range and turned aside a shot by Maguire on a corner before Raheem Sterling scuffed a shot wide of the right post from the six-yard box.
In that span, Tunisia was forced into using backup keeper Farouk Ben Mustpaha on 15 minutes. Hassen appeared to hurt his shoulder in the opening minutes and then aggravated the injury making the save on Stones’ header. He returned to the bench in the second half with his left arm in a sling.
Lingard missed a chance to double England’s lead on 24 minutes, putting a right-footed side volley wide of the left post with all sorts of time. Maguire had a chance when he met Trippier’s cross on a free kick, but Ben Mustapha was up to the task with a diving save.
It would not be an England World Cup match without some consternation, however, and it arrived in the 33rd minute in the form of a penalty awarded to Tunisia after a moment of madness by Kyle Walker. Referee Wilmar Roldan pointed to the spot after the Spurs defender lifted his arm as a Tunisian cross sailed harmlessly through the England penalty area, connecting with Ben Youssef Fakhreddine in the face.
Ferjane Sassi took the penalty for the Eagles, and while England keeper Jordan Pickford guessed correctly and dove to his right, Sassi’s effort had too much pace as it fizzed inside the left post to make it 1-1. Stones had an opportunity to quickly restore England’s lead, but he made a hash of things at the top of the six-yard box and misfired.
Lingard had another chance right before halftime after Maguire got to a Trippier corner, but his shot was deflected over the bar. Tunisia did better in the second half to defend, with most of England’s scoring chances coming on corner kicks and other set pieces.
Manager Gareth Southgate introduced Marcus Rashford for Sterling in the 68th minute, and the Manchester United starlet instantly made a nuisance of himself with his pace on the right. Rashford, though, also was profligate with a scoring chance minutes before Kane’s goal, trying to create a scoring chance for his club teammate Lingard with a dummy rather than shooting from close range.
Turns out it was just ratcheting up the drama for Kane to be the hero as he now has 15 goals in 25 international matches.
Sasse’s penalty was the only shot on target for Tunisia, which was outshot 19-6 as England put seven of its attempts on target.
It was the first win to open group play for England since 2006 and just its second win in the last nine World Cup matches overall (2-4-3). It was also the second time in as many matches the Three Lions defeated Tunisia in the World Cup, with Southgate the starting center back in a 2-0 victory in France in 1998.
The Three Lions are second in Group G behind Belgium on goal difference after the favorites rolled to a 3-0 victory over Panama in its opener. The Eagles of Carthage are third, ahead of the Canaleros on goal difference.
Tunisia’s task to regroup to remain in the hunt to advance to the knockout round will be a difficult one as it faces Belgium on Saturday in Moscow, while England will look to take a huge step towards qualifying the following day in Nizhny Novogorod versus first-time World Cup entrant Panama.