1) Profligacy could end up costing dearly
Amid all the positivity which had swept this vibrant, attack-minded England side to Volgograd and the joy which accompanied their departure back to St Petersburg, Gareth Southgate will be more acutely aware of this team’s shortcomings now. Principal among them is profligacy. Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard have scored 144 goals for their various club sides, albeit not always in the top flight, since the 2014 World Cup, but have now contributed only five in 73 caps between them for the national team. Some of the misses here were excruciating and undermined an otherwise dominant performance. Until England find a way of easing the goalscoring burden on Harry Kane, their excellent approach play will invariably bring frustration. Southgate must coax bite from those at the captain’s back.
2) Kane’s catch-up game is under way
At least the captain retains his threat. Mauricio Pochettino encourages nothing but positivity at Tottenham, however wild the ambitions of his players, so there were few surprises when Kane went into last season expressing a desire to establish his reputation at the top level in the Champions League. He achieved that, so why not express an intent to claw Cristiano Ronaldo back in the race for the World Cup’s Golden Boot on the eve of this fixture? His predatory finish after Mouez Hassen’s fine early save signalled his intent. His close-range header from Harry Maguire’s flick deep into stoppage time was a reminder he will always be England’s talismanic figure. England need more chances to fall for him given those two chances were his only real sights of goal, but they can trust in their skipper.
3) Carelessness marred early excellence
Southgate has urged his players to take risks and was willing to excuse the odd mistake en route but there has to be some concern, too, at the back. Tunisia hardly ever threatened yet they still managed to score. Kyle Walker’s penalty concession instinctively felt soft but his swing of the arm, inadvertently connecting with Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, had perhaps courted disaster. Carelessness had actually gripped Southgate’s side in that period, with Harry Maguire and Walker having dawdled in possession moments before to present Tunisia with their first real sight of goal. It only takes a moment of sloppiness to shift momentum in a game at this level. Here England needlessly presented their rivals with a route back into the fray.
4) Cases for two England penalties?
If VAR was supposed to be the root of all confusion, then the Colombian official created rather more chaos over what he considered worthy of the award of a spot-kick. Walker was clumsy and penalised. Yassine Meriah’s approach to dealing with Kane at set pieces was rather more intentionally heavy handed. Twice the striker was wrestled to the ground off the ball, with his and teammates’ appeal for a penalty almost laughed off by Wilmar Roldan. Both would have been as soft as Ferjani Sassi’s, certainly, but the decision-making appeared to lack some consistency. Not that that constituted an excuse. England should have been out of sight long before they could cry foul.
5) But this was still a night of positives
Only a sixth win in 24 opening matches at major tournaments has given England a whiff of the knockout stage. Tunisia were awkward, stubborn opponents to confront but, eventually, they were deflated and defeated by two set plays. That refusal to allow two points to slip away has provided a considerable fillip – it will do wonders for a young squad’s belief – with further encouragement to be taken from the way Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek drove England on against weary opponents. The energy was English. Qualification could be achieved in Nizhny Novgorod against Panama, a team ground down and eventually overcome with ease by Belgium. The third game could be a play-off for top spot after all.