English recovery pleasing to the eye

England captain Harry Kane celebrating after heading in the winning goal from another set piece against Tunisia, having also opened the scoring from a corner. It was the first time the Three Lions managed to win their opening World Cup game since bea
England captain Harry Kane celebrating after heading in the winning goal from another set piece against Tunisia, having also opened the scoring from a corner. It was the first time the Three Lions managed to win their opening World Cup game since beating Paraguay at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Manager Southgate encouraged by late goal and bench options after conceding penalty

VOLGOGRAD • England coach Gareth Southgate said he was delighted with his team's performance despite having to rely on a stoppage-time Harry Kane goal to beat Tunisia 2-1 in their opening World Cup match on Monday.

England lie second in Group G behind Belgium on goal difference and can all but secure qualification for the knockout stage with a win against Panama on Sunday.

"We recovered from a really harsh (penalty) decision and kept our composure, which pleased me," Southgate said. "Even at 1-1, I was really proud of the performance. I've talked a lot leading up to this game that the performance is key, because that's what you can control.

"Even though the clock was running down, we stayed patient. Good teams score late goals, because if you dominate the ball like that, the opposition tire."

Kane also scored England's opening goal, tapping in from close range after 11 minutes.

Tunisia's Ferjani Sassi then slotted home a softly-awarded penalty after Kyle Walker brought down Fakhreddine Ben Youssef with an outstretched arm.

England dominated possession but grew less effective as the second half wore on before Kane's 91st-minute header.

Southgate also pointed to the depth of England's attacking options as cause for optimism after praising the impact made by his substitutes, Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

The England boss had resisted switching systems in pursuit of a winner, but instead threw on fresh personnel who carried a different threat to pluck victory at the last.

Loftus-Cheek barged forward at will down the right, while Rashford combined smartly with Kane and injected pace into the frontline.

"The way we'll change the game is by bringing on a different profile of player, who carries a different sort of threat," Southgate said.

"When you are attacking, you need some structure to your play. You can put attacking players on in various positions, but you can lose shape and be counter-attacked. But we kept control and the composure and the guys who came on had a different threat."

What Southgate would not be pleased with was the the sight of Tunisia defenders wrestling Kane to the ground in the penalty area without punishment, raising more questions about the worth of the video assistant referee (VAR).

Sassi wrapped Kane up in a bear hug and he fell to the ground late in the first half as the striker tried to meet a corner.

"I think if it's a penalty at one end, it has to be a penalty at the other," said Southgate.

Although referee Wilmar Roldan could be excused for missing the incidents in a crowded area, they must have been spotted by the VAR, according to Euro 2016 final referee Mark Clattenburg.

"Last night showed major inconsistency from the referee and video referee team. The VAR not giving England a penalty retrospectively was a wrong call," he said.

Grappling at corners has become endemic in the game but, according to England's former Fifa referee Graham Poll, it is one area VAR was brought in to tackle but failed to do so in Monday's game.

"The offences were so clear that I was surprised, and disappointed, that the Brazilian referee Sandro Ricci in the VAR studio in Moscow didn't get involved," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2018, with the headline 'English recovery pleasing to the eye'. Print Edition | Subscribe