Thank God for ‘Arry

Thank God for ‘Arry

Kane keeps his head to rescue England not once, but twice as the Three Lions scrape a narrow victory

In what was a turbulent night at the Volgograd Arena, Gareth Southgate’s England edged past Tunisia to record their first victory at the 2018 World Cup. Last night was absolutely textbook from England at a major international tournament: start well, squander early chances, concede just before half-time and then spend the second half probing away at a frustratingly resilient defence before clinching the win at the very last moment.

England were lucky last night, make no bones about it. If it wasn’t for Harry Kane showing the sort of character that has got him this far in his career, we’d all be left with that doomed feeling of angst that has become so familiar for England fans over the years. Ultimately though, the boys did the business, regardless of how late they left it and that has to be admired. England reacted to Tunisia’s penalty in a much more promising way last night; teams in the past would have gone into a state of shock, paralysed with fear that they’d concede again and lose to a much inferior side. Southgate’s men instead opted to attack Tunisia, constantly probing what turned into an unorthodox back ten from the North Africans.

Jordan Henderson has come under much scrutiny in the past for his sideways passing, but last night he was exceptional in that lone ‘anchorman’ role just in front of the back four. The Liverpool man controlled the tempo of the midfield, broke up play fantastically and was not afraid to spray passes in behind Tunisia’s defensive line. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Marcus Rashford looked sharp when they were introduced late on in the second half; they played without fear and showed maturity beyond their years when the game was under immense pressure. Harry Kane deserves every ounce of praise he gets: the Spurs forward led the line with pride, passion and most importantly, class. The 24-year-old carried his side through a tricky game and when times got tough he was the man who provided the outcome, turning in from close range on the 90th minute to ensure his side avoided an embarrassing draw to the groups second-weakest outfit.

Frustration grew for England last night as Tunisia defended in numbers.

Frustration grew for England last night as Tunisia defended in numbers.

For all the credit England deserve for an entertaining, positive performance at the Volgograd Arena, it still shouldn’t be forgotten that last night’s game should have been put to bed in the opening half-hour. Raheem Sterling should have converted from close range after he was presented with an open goal when the game was just three minutes old. Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard should have also done much better with his opportunity just moments later, but instead his meek ‘shot’ trickled just wide of another open goal. Finally, John Stones managed to completely waft at thin air from five yards out as the ball bounced aimlessly around the penalty area following an Ashley Young corner. These chances simply have to be taken when we go up against the elite teams in this competition. England got away with it last night due to their opponents offering little to nothing going forward, but if we are to progress any further in Russia this summer then squandering those sort of gilt-edged chances in front of goal will ultimately cost us dearly.

The future looks bright for the class of 2018. There were plenty of positives to take from that performance last night, and should England come out of the blocks in the same manner against Panama on Sunday, then another win is almost a guarantee. There seems to be an air of confidence around the England camp at the moment, for the first time in years this squad of players seem to be as much a group of mates as they are a national football team and it’s starting to become reflectant on the pitch.

Gareth Southgate has placed trust in the younger, more inexperienced players who deserve a chance to show what they can do at this level and with this has created a feeling of optimism among our expectant nation. Not the sort of half-arsed, almost obligatory expectation either, but real, genuine hope that just maybe we could go the distance this time around. Don’t get us wrong, there’s still plenty to be done if England are to advance through to the quarter-finals for the first time in sixteen years, starting with our composure in front of goal and how well we take our chances. But if we can refine this against the likes of Belgium when we face them in just over a weeks time, is it completely ridiculous to believe that football really could be coming home?