World Cup / Eyes on Football
World Cup 2018: England boss Gareth Southgate proud of performance even if game had been draw
England boss Gareth Southgate says he would have been proud of his players’ performance even if they had drawn their World Cup opener against Tunisia.
Harry Kane scored twice, including a dramatic injury-time winner, after Ferjani Sassi’s penalty had cancelled out the England captain’s opener.
“We created so many clear-cut chances, especially in the first half, and were in total control in the second half,” Southgate told BBC One.
“Good teams score late goals.”
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He added: “I was most proud of the way we kept playing even though the clock was running down.
“We stayed patient, and didn’t just throw the ball in the box.
“We deserved the win. We were strong on set-plays all night. If we’d drawn, even though it would have made life more difficult for us, I’d have been proud of the performance.”
Meanwhile, Dele Alli hopes he will be fit for Sunday’s game against Panama after going off in the 80th minute with a quad injury.
He seemed set to come off in the first half, with Fabian Delph ready to replace him, but managed to play for most of the game.
“Hopefully I am OK,” said the midfielder.
Southgate said: “He was feeling a little bit of an issue just before half-time, but he felt he could carry on and I thought the runs that he was making and the way he was pressing the ball were still causing a problem.”
Winner was ‘a bit of justice’
Kane scored the opening goal on the rebound after John Stones’ header was kept out by Mouez Hassen.
Sassi equalised with a penalty after Kyle Walker raised an arm to Fakhreddine Ben Youssef as the two tussled in the area, but England were not to be denied as Kane popped up to head a 91st-minute winner.
“Harry is a top, top striker,” said Southgate. “I’m delighted for him as we’d be asking questions about him not scoring in tournament football if he hadn’t scored. He took his goals really well.”
Kane – who has now scored 15 goals in 25 caps – was twice wrestled to the ground in the box without the video assistant referee awarding a penalty.
The Tottenham striker told BBC Sport: “We could have had a couple of penalties, especially when you look at theirs.
“A few corners, they were trying to grab, hold and stop us running. Maybe it was a bit of justice to score at the back post at the end. That’s football, that’s the ref. It showed good character to get on with it.”
Southgate said: “I think if it’s a penalty at one end it has to be a penalty at the other. If penalties are given for that then it’s going to be an interesting tournament – there were similar offences at the other end.”
Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul said: “The risks came from set-pieces. When you have very tall players it is very difficult to counter them. They were much better than us when it came to those high balls.
“Harry Kane is one of the best attackers in the Premier League and that is why he is highly sought after by the highest clubs. I think he was behind the victory of the English team – it was him who was always [there] at the right time.”
Southgate praises less experienced players
England’s starting XI had a total of 248 caps – their lowest figure in a major tournament since facing Bulgaria at the 1962 World Cup.
Leicester centre-back Harry Maguire was winning his sixth cap, with Everton keeper Jordan Pickford making his competitive debut in his fourth appearance. Tottenham right-back Kieran Trippier was playing for England for the seventh time.
“Harry Maguire’s potential is huge,” said Southgate. “Both he and Jordan Pickford have not played in cup finals and big-stage Champions League matches – but he has great composure and has a calm temperament. He has outstanding potential and I hope tonight has given him a lot of belief.”
Maguire said: “I had a couple of nervy passes in the first half – it’s a big occasion and your first game at this high pressure. You have to focus and concentrate and I feel I grew into the game.”