By 90Min
June 19, 2018

As captain Harry Kane's late, late header found the back of the net in the 91st minute in Volgograd for England, a nation celebrated as if they had won the whole tournament. 

Packed out pubs exploded with joy, beer was thrown in the air, and the streets were lined with merry people dancing along to 'Three Lions'. It may have only been the first match, it may have only been Tunisia - but winning in this manner could well perversely be a bigger lift to the players than if they had won 5-0.

The manner of this win perfectly sums up the good work that Gareth Southgate has done with the team. In spite of being up against a stubborn, somewhat cynical Tunisia side, this young England team never gave up, never got frustrated, and just kept pushing and pushing for the winner. 

When it finally came, the joy, where virtually every player joined in a massive pile-on, also demonstrates the special bond these players seem to have with each other, something which was never really evident in the 'golden generation'. 

Had England won comfortably the reaction would, of course, have been positive too. However, Russia's 5-0 victory over Saudi Arabia on the opening day was an example of a game which was less about Russia being brilliant and more about Saudi Arabia being truly terrible. 

A thrashing from England could also have led to complacency from the players going into a game against what looks like a pretty poor Panama side, whereas the fact that they only just scraped past Tunisia will hopefully serve as a lesson to the players in the need to take their chances when they are on top, as they wasted a whole host of opportunities before Tunisia's equaliser.

Overall Southgate will have seen enough to satisfy him about the win, but also plenty to give him food for thought. There will be plenty of calls to start Marcus Rashford ahead of Raheem Sterling against Panama following the former's impressive performance coming off the bench, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek could also be pushing for a start after his bright cameo appearance. It will be interesting to see how he manages to keep everyone happy, and rotates the squad to ensure nobody becomes burnt out before a potential last-sixteen clash.


The cynics will say that this England team should be beating a side like Tunisia far more comfortably than they did, but it's worth remembering that Germany, Argentina and Brazil have all failed to beat teams that on paper look inferior to themselves in their opening games. The gap in quality between the elite teams and the smaller nations seems to be a lot smaller than usual in this tournament, and to use an old cliche, the win was the most important thing at this stage. 

KHALED DESOUKI/GettyImages

What sweeter way to seal it than by scoring in the last minute. 

The feel-good factor around the country will be reaching fever pitch if England manage to overcome Panama to all but seal a place in the knockout stages, and it would be a huge boost to be able to go into a tricky looking Belgium game with the pressure off, without the do-or-die build up that has hampered so many England teams in the past.

Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages

Is football coming home? Not quite yet, but try telling that to the delirious England fans in pubs around the country last night. This was just the start the nation needed. 

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Eagle (-2)
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