VOLGORAD, Russia - England coach Gareth Southgate said he was delighted with his team's performance despite having to rely on an injury-time Harry Kane goal to beat Tunisia in their opening World Cup match on Monday.
England lie second in Group G behind Belgium on goal difference and can all but secure qualification for the knockout stages with a win against Panama on Sunday. Kane volleyed England in front from close range after 11 minutes but the Three Lions almost paid a heavy price for missing a slew of first-half chances.
Tunisia's Ferjani Sassi slotted home a softly-awarded penalty after Kyle Walker's arm made contact with Fakhreddine Ben Youssef, who went down in a heap. England dominated possession but grew less effective as the second half wore on before Kane's 91st minute header saw him mobbed by his teammates in celebration.
"We recovered from a really harsh (penalty) decision and kept our composure, which pleased me," Southgate told reporters after the match. It was the first time England had scored twice in a World Cup finals game since drawing 2-2 with Sweden in 2006. Prolific man-of-the-match Kane's double were his first goals in a major tournament.
"Even at 1-1 I was really proud of the performance," said Southgate. "I've talked a lot leading up to this game that the performance is key, because that's what you can control. There were things in the game that we couldn't control tonight that we reacted really well to. Even though the clock was running down, we stayed patient. Good teams score late goals, because if you dominate the ball like that, the opposition tire."
England had started brightly in a blur of passing and movement and could have been two goals up inside the first four minutes. "We created a lot of clear-cut chances in the first half, as many as I can remember us having," said Southgate after England had six shots on target, reportedly their most in a half of World Cup football since the 1966 semi-final against Portugal.
Both Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli struck the woodwork and Kane was wrestled to the ground on at least a couple of occasions at corners, but the referee and VAR saw nothing wrong to the dismay of Southgate.
"I think if it's a penalty at one end it has to be a penalty at the other," said Southgate. "Once the first one is given it wasn't going to be overturned (by VAR) because it wasn't a clear and obvious error. If penalties are going to be given for that, it is going to be an interesting tournament."