Belfast Telegraph

Harry Houdini for England

By Simon Peach in Volgograd

Harry Kane's relief was as clear as his joy after securing England a last-gasp 2-1 victory in their World Cup opener against Tunisia.

Gareth Southgate's men made an outstanding start to the Group G encounter in Volgograd, where the 24-year-old opened the scoring with his first major tournament goal.

But referee Wilmar Roldan controversially awarded a penalty that Ferjani Sassi converted and the Video Assistant Referee then inexplicably overlooked Tunisia's manhandling of Kane in the box. Yet just as it looked set to end as a draw, the England captain nodded home to secure a win that he hopes will make the "people in the pubs back home proud".

"It looked like it could be one of those nights again, but we've got great togetherness, we never panicked, we never looked like conceding another, which was important, and then got what we deserved at the end," he said.

"We are proud of each other," Tottenham ace Kane said after the Three Lions started a major tournament with a win for the first time since 2006.

"In a World Cup, you're never sure how it's going to go and in recent years the first games have always been difficult.

"You're always proud to see it come off in a game. We were talking to each other non-stop, getting each other through it."

Kane liked the way England flew out of the blocks at the Volgograd Arena, where they had to rely on character beyond their years.

"It went to 1-1, the momentum changed a bit, so I thought we recovered well from that," he said.

"It is always in the back of your mind that it is going to be one of those days. The ball just wasn't falling to our player at the right time, but that's what the character is about.

"That's why we work so hard to go to 90-plus minutes and we got one in the end."

Kane was named man of the match for his display on a night when the lack of VAR was striking, particularly when the Spurs star was dragged down at corners by Sassi and Yassine Meriah.

"I'm a bit disappointed by that," he said. "Obviously when you look at the penalty they got... I've not seen it back, but on the pitch it looked quite soft.

"That's what VAR is there for, to look at those decisions. If they don't think it's a penalty, we have to deal with that.

"For me, I struggled to get them off me. I tried to run at a few corners and just couldn't move. I guess as players there's nothing we can do about that. We just have to hope that officials are getting it right more often than not."

And the officials were not the only irritant in Volgograd, where insects proved a nuisance.

"There was a lot more than I first thought," Kane added.

"We got told before that there was going to be quite a lot of flies and when we went out for the warm-up it was a lot more than we all thought.

"We had a lot of bug spray on before the game, half-time, which was important. But I guess that's part of just dealing with whatever comes your way and the team coped with it well."

Boss Southgate singled out England's patience as something to be praised, lauding their ability not to get flustered by missed opportunities.

"The way we kept playing, even though the clock was running down, we stayed patient, we didn't just throw the ball in the box," he said. "We waited for good opportunities and I think we deserved the win.

"We made so many clear-cut chances, especially in the first half, were in total control of the game in the second half, we were strong on set-plays all night and I'm really pleased.

"I thought even if we'd drawn, which I know would have made life more difficult for us, I'd have been proud of the performance."

Southgate also singled out Kane for some personal praise, before going on to credit the entire team for their performance.

"(Harry Kane) is a top, top striker," Southgate said. "I'm delighted for him because if he didn't score we'd be asking questions about him not scoring goals in tournament football.

"I think it's a night where it's difficult to highlight individuals because it was a collective.

"The squad have been brilliant. The team selection was so difficult. But we've got this result over the last three weeks, not just tonight, and that's down to everybody that's trained hard and worked so hard together."

Belfast Telegraph

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