Kane wins it for England in last minute

Kane wins it for England in last minute
June 19 09:11 2018

The clock had ticked past 90 minutes. Harry Kane was there and, in that position, Gareth Southgate could not have wished for any other player to be primed inside the penalty area. An old English routine: the corner, the flick-on, the back-post header and, suddenly, England’s opening game of the World Cup had its happy ending.

It was deserved, too, bearing in mind the pattern of the game and the long spells when it had been threatening to finish with a churning sense of déjà vu. England, after all, had managed only five wins in their opening fixtures of every World Cup and European Championship since 1950.

They had outplayed Tunisia without outscoring them and, at 1-1, a draw would have pained Southgate, to say the least, given the number of chances his team had passed up to make it a more straightforward evening.

But when has it ever been straightforward with England? Kane had already scored from one corner and the team had played so thrillingly it was bordering on absurd that the game had reached the end of normal time without them being in a winning position.

Tunisia’s equaliser had come from a penalty that could be described, at best, as generous – or from England’s perspective, utterly needless – and for a long time it seemed as though Southgate’s players did not have the wit or creativity to turn their superiority into the hard currency of goals.

Enter Kane. His late, twisting header means England can qualify for the knockout stages by defeating Panama in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday and the final game of Group G against Belgium may not be so relevant. England can therefore leave Volgograd reflecting on a hugely satisfying evening, full of drama and incident, and nobody can possibly argue the result was unjust. England were the better team by some distance, even if they did play with everyone’s nerves.

Southgate certainly kept to his word that his players would deliver fluid, energetic performances with an emphasis on attack. They were quick to the ball, slick with their passing and attacked with so much adventure, particularly in the first half, that there were countless occasions when they outnumbered their opponents at the back.

The pressure on Tunisia was almost unremitting and, even ignoring for a moment Kane’s goals, it must have been hugely encouraging for Southgate to see the vibrancy of his team, the number of chances they concocted and the desire of the midfieldersto break into the opposition penalty area.

Unfortunately for Southgate, there was also a reminder here of England’s recurring ability to make life more difficult for themselves than necessary. On that front nothing has changed. It was difficult to keep a count of the number of chances – not just half-chances but wonderful openings – England totted up throughout the night.

How much less stressful everything might have been, for instance, if England had been more ruthless inside the opening few minutes.

An offside flag spared Sterling’s embarrassment with an open-goal miss after four minutes. It was a fairly staggering moment, all the same. Yet in fairness to Sterling he was not the only England player to be guilty of poor finishing during a wild, breathless opening half.

One by one, the chances came and went. Jesse Lingard had a golden opportunity, at 1-0, to double England’s lead and, later on, prodded a shot against a post.

John Stones wasted a gilt-edged chance shortly after Tunisia’s penalty, with Dele Alli’s looping back-header being turned against the crossbar moments earlier, and there was some splendid goalkeeping from Mouez Hassen before he was forced off with a shoulder injury.

Hassen had stopped Lingard from giving England the lead after only two minutes and Tunisia’s goalkeeper was unlucky for Kane’s first goal, 11 minutes in, when Ashley Young delivered the corner and Stones showed great desire to get to the ball first. Hassen clawed away Stones’ header but the ball fell kindly for Kane and he turned in the rebound from close range.

All of this seemed a far cry from the last time England were seen in a major competition, namely the ordeal against Iceland in Euro 2016. Southgate’s men set off like a team in a hurry. They have had to be patient, with six of the other World Cup groups already under way, and it quickly became apparent they were determined to make a favourable impression.

Once they had the lead, however, they were far too slack in letting Tunisia back into the match through a combination of penalty-box misses, some bad luck and the penalty that Kyle Walker gave away for blocking off Fakhredinne Ben Youssef in the 34th minute.

England are entitled to be aggrieved by the decision of the Colombian referee, Wilmar Roldán, and the exaggerated agony of the Tunisia player to create the deception. Equally it should be a lesson for Walker that in the modern international game it is taking a risk to jut out a trailing arm when an opponent is in close proximity.

Walker has a habit of disrupting players this way and on this occasion it backfired. Ferjani Sassi took the penalty, beating Jordan Pickford to the goalkeeper’s right. And England were back level again in a game they had been controlling.

They should have won a penalty of their own when Kane was pulled to the floor in the same incident that led to Stones firing wide and, after the interval, England continued to press forward.

Sterling, with only two goals now in 38 England appearances, was taken off in that period and his replacement, Marcus Rashford, quickly started to threaten. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who came on after Alli complained about soreness in a thigh, also had a positive impact and, importantly, England kept going.

Even when the ball was not running for them, they persevered. And then, finally, came the decisive corner in the first minute of stoppage time. Kieran Trippier put the ball into the penalty area. Harry Maguire won the first header. And Kane was there.

[Guardian UK]