Captain Harry Kane struck at the death to hand England a winning start to their World Cup finals campaign as Tunisia finally succumbed.
Kane headed home from close range in the first minute of stoppage time having earlier given his side an 11th-minute lead.
However, England left it desperately late after being pegged back by Ferjani Sassi’s 33rd-minute spot-kick, awarded by Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan for Kyle Walker’s challenge on Fakhreddine Ben Youssef.
Kane found himself the centre of attention as the referee allowed Tunisia to repeatedly manhandle him but when he found the time and space to punish the opposition, he did so in clinical fashion. Both goals were instinctive close-range finishes, but the composure he demonstrated to head his side to victory in stoppage time augurs well for the rest of the tournament.
England are used to suffering when it comes to penalties, but the misery arrived in slightly different form this time around. Leading 1-0, they conceded the softest of spot-kicks for Kyle Walker’s clumsy 33rd-minute challenge on Fakhreddine Ben Youssef and saw it converted by Ferjani Sassi, who then inexplicably got away with wrestling Kane to the ground at the other end.
Gareth Southgate’s men may not have enjoyed the rub of the green in Volgograd, but they could have made life significantly easier for themselves. They created a series of chances to extend their lead both before and after the penalty calamity with Jesse Lingard, who hit the post on the stroke of half-time, particularly wasteful.
Tunisia: Mouez Hassen 7, Dylan Bronn 6, Syam Ben Youssef 5, Yassine Meriah 6, Ali Maaloul 6, Ferjani Sassi 6, Ellyes Skhiri 7, Anice Badri 6, Fakhreddine Ben Youssef 6, Wahbi Khazri 6, Naim Sliti 7. Subs: Farouk Ben Mustapha (for Hassen, 15) 6, Mohamed Ben Amor (for Sliti, 73) 6, Saber Khalifa (for Khazri, 85) 6.
England: Jordan Pickford 6, Kyle Walker 6, John Stones 7, Harry Maguire 7, Kieran Trippier 8, Dele Alli 7, Jordan Henderson 6, Jesse Lingard 5, Ashley Young 6, Raheem Sterling 6, Harry Kane 9. Subs: Marcus Rashford (for Sterling, 68) 6, Ruben Loftus-Cheek (for Alli, 80) 7, Eric Dier (for Lingard, 90) 6.
Belgium v Tunisia, Moscow, Saturday, June 23.
England v Panama, Nizhny Novgorod, Sunday, June 24.