VOLGOGRAD, Russia (Reuters) - England fans who watched their team beat Tunisia 2-1 on Monday said they had been on tenterhooks until the stoppage-time winning goal, fearing that their long trip to southern Russia might end in disappointment.
Many of the fans had taken the 18-hour train journey from Moscow, which is about 900 km (559.23 miles) to the north of Volgograd, and had built up a huge sense of anticipation before the game, believing that England would easily beat Tunisia.
“What a relief,” a weary-looking Alan Evans from Birmingham, wearing a white England top, said outside the stadium after captain Harry Kane struck twice to secure his country’s opening Group G victory. “We were worried.”
John Tilbury from Watford, who was walking along chanting the result surrounded by crestfallen Tunisian fans, felt the same. “We got the job done and we got the three points. Lots of teams seem to have struggled so far,” he said.
There was plenty of praise for England manager Gareth Southgate, however, with many fans saying the substitutions he made were shrewd and game-changing.
“At last, we’ve got a manager who knows what to do when it’s going wrong,” said David Ward from Doncaster who added that Southgate had made two inspired substitutions.
Many fans thought England had squandered multiple chances to score but would be good enough to get out of their group, which includes Belgium and debutants Panama, and progress further.
Others said England lost focus and pace in the second half.
“It was a nervous affair,” said Dave Mills from Coventry, a former soldier who had taken a break from walking around the world for charity to see the match.
“It was typical England. They came out of the blocks firing early on and then settled into a pattern.”
If they could grow quickly as a team, he predicted they would go far in the tournament however.
“If (Raheem) Sterling can start firing on all cylinders then we’re going to be on fire,” he said.
Matt Gregg, an England fan from Toronto, said he and his friends had made the 18-hour train journey to Volgograd from Moscow and been worried until the game’s dying moments that the match was going to end in a draw.
“We are exhausted and tired,” Gregg said outside the stadium. “But this makes up for all that.”
Editing by Ken Ferris