As the game went into the last 10 minutes the talk of the heat, the midges and the dubious refereeing reached fever pitch as Martin Keown started the excuses for another draw in the first game of a World Cup finals. As it stands, a last-minute winner for England captain Harry Kane has left pundits and fans alike reflecting on a dominant, energetic performance in Volgograd.
The first twenty minutes was exactly what we had been promised by Gareth Southgate. We pressed high which consistently spread panic through the Tunisian backline, allowing Alli and Lingard to make their late runs. Trippier and Henderson, in particular, were always looking to play the ball forward, with more success than we had seen previously. The back three looked calm and assured with the ball at their feet. I was looking at the game and feeling for the first time, almost in living memory, that I could be proud of the football England were playing.
The difference between that first twenty minutes and the next fifty following the Tunisian penalty was stark. It was an unfortunate penalty to concede, but a penalty all the same. The intensity and the high press suddenly stopped. The movement in between the lines and through the lines was now not there. Those forward passes were now going sideways and backwards. You could almost see the England players wincing as the memory of the Icelandic Viking clap played in their ears.
However, where Hodgson looked lost and lonely on the touchline, Southgate remained positive and made two key substitutions under pressure. Dele Alli clearly wasn’t fit following his dead leg in the first half and Sterling was again a shadow of the player we see so consistently at Manchester City. They were replaced by Loftus-Cheek and Rashford who both added that extra impetus and drove England on. They were doing those things that the players on the pitch seemed to have forgotten from the early periods of the first half. Game time for our squad will be crucial if we have serious ambitions to go deep in this tournament. This, in combination with the poor performance from Sterling and a niggle for Dele Alli, means Southgate should seriously consider turning those substitutes into starters for the game against Panama.
A positive start for England. A win and some progressive football played. It is worth remembering though, that despite the tactical changes and differences in personnel, despite the positive attitude surrounding this young England team, the only change that made any difference to the end result of this game is that Harry Kane is not taking corners. Obviously.