Volgograd, Russia—Harry Kane grabbed a dramatic late winner for England on Monday, powering home a header in injury time of their World Cup opener after Belgium had earlier swept past Panama.
Kane’s second goal of the game secured a 2-1 victory after it looked as if England had squandered their chance to take all three points after being rocked by a Tunisian equaliser which followed a bright start.
Menaced by flying insects under the floodlights in Volgograd, England raced out of the blocks and took an early lead in the Group G match through Kane.
But Gareth Southgate’s young English team squandered multiple chances, with Jesse Lingard particularly wasteful, and Tunisia made them pay when Ferjani Sassi scored from the penalty spot after Kyle Walker was adjudged to have fouled Fakhreddine Ben Youssef.
Despite enjoying the bulk of the possession in the second half, England created few clear-cut chances and looked as though they would be forced to settle for a share of the spoils.
But captain Kane had the last word, heading in a corner at the back post in the 91st minute.
“It’s massive,” said Kane. “I’m so proud of the lads. It’s tough. We played so well, especially in the first half, and we could have scored a few more.
“We kept going. It’s a World Cup, you go to the last second. I’m absolutely buzzing.”
Southgate meanwhile praised his side’s ability to dig out a victory at the death which was England’s first win in a World Cup opener since 2006.
“We recovered from a really harsh (penalty) decision and kept our composure, which pleased me,” Southgate told reporters.
“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.”
Off the field, England fans were outnumbered by Tunisian supporters in Volgograd after fewer than 2,000 tickets for the match were sold in Britain.
The England supporters were given a warm welcome in the city formerly known as Stalingrad and were largely well-behaved although two fans were charged with public drunkenness after being detained on a train.
Earlier, Belgium showed England, their main rivals in Group G, the way with a comfortable 3-0 win against Panama in Sochi as Dries Mertens scored just after half-time before Lukaku headed in on 69 minutes and pounced again six minutes later.
Belgium showed they might finally be ready to realise the promise of a talented crop of players as they gave Panama a torrid time in the Central American side’s first-ever appearance in a World Cup finals.
Belgium coach Roberto Martinez said he was “delighted” with the performance.
“It was exactly what we expected—there are no easy games at the World Cup. We started very well but then became frustrated as the first half wore on,” he said.
In Monday’s early game, Sweden—now without retired superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic—beat South Korea 1-0 in Nizhny Novgorod to go joint top of Germany’s group alongside Mexico thanks to a penalty awarded by VAR (Video Assistant Referee).
Veteran Swedish skipper Andreas Granqvist scored the only goal of the game from the spot after Viktor Claesson was upended by South Korean substitute Kim Min-woo midway through the second half.
Despite furious appeals, El Salvadorean referee Joel Aguilar initially waved away Swedish penalty claims but after consulting the video, he pointed to the spot.
The Swedes will now advance to a crunch clash with reigning champions Germany on Saturday knowing that another victory could well send the 2014 winners out of the tournament.
The Germans continued to lick their wounds on Monday after suffering a shock 1-0 reverse to Mexico 24 hours earlier.
“I have not seen the German team so weak at a big tournament for a long time,” said West Germany’s 1990 World Cup-winning captain Lothar Matthaeus.
“Almost everything was missing. There were concentration errors, unnecessary bad passes and also the attitude was not there.”