VOLGOGRAD, Russia (Reuters) - England manager Gareth Southgate hailed his team for sticking to the gameplan after Harry Kane headed home his second goal in stoppage time to seal a 2-1 win over Tunisia in their opening World Cup Group G match on Monday.
England made a superb start at the Volgograd Arena when Kane lashed the home from close range in the 11th minute, but the lead lasted 24 minutes before Tunisia drew level from the penalty spot through Ferjani Sassi.
That was how it stayed as England struggled to break down the resilient north Africans, before they finally found a way through the massed defensive ranks when Kane swivelled to head home in added time.
While Kane took the plaudits, his manager was more interested in England’s cool heads under pressure as they refused to deviate from their measured possession game that Southgate has tried to hone.
“No matter what system we play, the important thing is when you are attacking you still have structure in your play. What pleased me was that we kept the control and composure,” he told reporters.
“Maybe tonight we could have run out of time. But I believe the best teams in the world have that belief in what they are doing and in the end they break teams down.”
That was exactly what England did, but they needed Kane to be at his predatory best.
The Tottenham Hotspur striker had not scored at a major tournament after drawing a blank at the last European Championship, but Southgate labelled him a “top, top striker” after his man-of-the-match display.
“If he doesn’t score tonight I am sitting here answering questions about his ability to score goals in tournament football, so for him I am personally delighted but I know the pride he will feel in leading his country to victory tonight will be the biggest for him.”
Kane, who was frequently manhandled by Tunisian defenders in the penalty area, was in little doubt about the importance of the result.
“It’s massive. I am so proud of the lads. We kept going. We spoke a lot about togetherness and we’ve got a great bond together,” he said.
“There were a lot of decisions against us and maybe there was a bit of justice at the end. That’s the World Cup. It’s tough.”
After Belgium thrashed Panama 3-0 in the other Group G game on Monday, the pressure was on England to deliver only their second win in their last nine games at World Cups.
“It’s a massive boost, a massive bonus, we kept going. We kept fighting and got the late goal and a big win,” England midfielder Jordan Henderson said.
“I felt positive at 1-1, the pace did drop off a bit. We had to keep creating chances, we didn’t play as well second half but they defended deep. Winning the first game is always massive.”
Writing by Toby Davis, editing by Ed Osmond