OPINION: Kane world class as England dig deep in adversity to win opener
He may be the youngest ever England World Cup skipper, but Harry Kane showed he is already world class with a captain's performance for his country in Volgograd last night.
He worked tirelessly, tucked away two superb finishes and inspired his young side, keeping them going even when it seemed everything was against them.
While the glass-half-empty brigade will shout it was only Tunisia, the 2-1 win should be embraced as a superb start to Gareth Southgate’s Russia 2018 campaign.
Kane can emerge from this tournament with a vastly enhanced reputation as can many of Southgate’s starlets.
They stuck to their guns last night, didn’t panic and got their just reward at the death.
Only poor finishing stopped the game being over well before half-time.
Kane’s early goal settled the nerves after a powerful start with the players finally let off the leash after the never-ending build-up to the tournament.
But poor finishing, with Jessie Lingard one of the main culprits, saw them fail to build on that - and then they were stung by some terrible penalty decisions.
Kyle Walker’s raised arm was a magnet for a striker to walk into.
But he was trying to shepherd the ball past him and wasn’t looking to swing it into anyone’s face.
It seemed harsh but at least there was a case for a penalty on that occasion.
However, the two clear occasions that Kane was wrestled to the ground at the other end were the most blatant penalties you will ever see.
So how come every game so far had seen VAR replays pick up everything but not for Kane – twice?
You may as well unplug and dismantle the system if it can’t spot offences like those.
Had they all popped off for a cuppa when those happened? You can bet your life a similar incident will result in a penalty for someone else over the next three weeks.
Molesting opponents at corners and free kicks was supposed to be an area they were clamping down on at this tournament.
VAR is supposed to stop referees missing incidents like these, but clearly it can’t and I am hugely disappointed in it.
Having said that, both offences were massively clear at the time to the match referee and how he could miss both without the help of technology is beyond me.
With Tunisia getting away with those and plenty of other cynical defending, a wealth of chances missed and an unexpected plague of midges of biblical proportions for everyone to chew on in the sweltering humidity, it did seem to be heading to be ‘one of those nights’ for England.
But, for once, the Three Lions dug deep and snatched all three points in stoppage time to send a nation into wild celebrations.
Already it’s one more win than Brazil or Germany managed in the first round of games and we should always enjoy feeling a little smug when we get the chance as it doesn’t happen often.
Manager Southgate must also feel a little like a proud parent too as, with his past involvement in the national set-up, he has seen these young men progress from being kids to this current point and knows them inside out, which is a huge strength.
In Southgate’s wing back system England passed the ball around confidently and, when you consider their ages, offered rich promise for the future.
Maybe this finally is the ‘golden generation’ we’ve been waiting for?
Of several superb displays, Keiran Trippier was excellent at wing back, Harry Maguire saw off early nerves to shine and Jordan Henderson was the central pivot to making it all tick.
It’s early days and World Cup virgins Panama are up next on Sunday lunchtime, whom the Three Lions ‘cubs’ are very capable of beating.
Belgium had to be patient to beat them comfortably 3-0 in the end yesterday, needing to go up a gear after the break to complete the job.
There are no ‘easy games’ at the finals, but some are easier than others and I believe England will build on last night’s win with three more points on Sunday, possibly with a few goals under their belts too, which will further boost their confidence on such a huge stage.
That would set up a showdown with a much tougher Belgium, possibly to decide the group winners, next week by which time the whole nation will be reaching fever pitch with the prospect of playing in the knockout stages.
Dele Alli did well to complete the game while suffering a quad muscle injury and it is to be hoped it won’t prove too serious.
With players like Reuben Loftus-Cheek champing at the bit it would be wise to rest up Alli for the lesser of the two games this weekend as he will be far more important further down the line should England progress.
But for now let’s savour England’s first opening game World Cup win for 22 years, get the flags and bunting flying and work out which pub to watch Sunday’s game in.