The Three Lions overcame their opponent’s switch of formation and defence of corners to earn a vital World Cup victory as it ended England 2-1 Tunisia.
England showed considerable resolve in order to overcome a tricky opponent in Group G. Fighting to the bitter end; it was our domination at set pieces that proved the difference. Two Harry Kane goals saw a final score of England 2-1 Tunisia.
Tunisia’s high line
The match opened with England successfully attacking Tunisia’s high defensive line. Nabil Maaloul’s men tried to play a medium block. Their objective was to keep space as tight as possible between the back four and the striker.
The issue for Tunisia was twofold. Firstly, they had little pressure on the ball, which meant England could pick their passes. Secondly, England had a great deal of speed on the field. As a result, England had great success firing balls in-behind Tunisia’s high line for Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard to chase.
Chances were created from this tactic as Lingard, Alli and Sterling all had good opportunities to open the scoring, but couldn’t find the back of the net.
England’s corner dominance
England couldn’t find the back of the net, but did often win corners. These set pieces allowed Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier to showcase their good dead ball deliveries. They also permitted Harry Maguire and John Stones to demonstrate their aerial power.
Tunisia’s set up at corners played right in to the England centre backs’ hands. Nabil Maaloul’s men played a hybrid system. A five man line played a zone across the six-yard box. Ahead of them, only three would defend man-to-man and track England runners.
As a result, England was often left with a numerical 4v3 advantage at the top of the box. These players were also given a free run at the ball as the Tunisian markers backed off.
England took the lead from exploiting Tunisia’s marking. Ashley Young whipped in a perfect cross. England again had four vs three on the edge of the penalty area, all unchecked with free runs.
Stones’ header brought a fantastic save from goalkeeper Mouez Hassen who did brilliantly to claw the ball out of mid-air. Sensing a rebound, Harry Kane was first to the loose ball and expertly cushioned it in to back in to the net. Cue celebrations that befitted England’s excellent start.
Tunisia press up
Conceding a goal saw Tunisia change their stance. Instead of playing a medium block to keep a compact shape, their team became very expansive. Tunisia pressed with five players and dropped five players. The result was a stretched team that left a huge chasm between their defence and attack.
The structure did prove effective. England struggled much more to play the ball easily out from the back and hit passes in-behind the high line as we had been. England often turned possession over or out for throw-ins due to being rushed.
The huge chasm in the middle of the park did allow Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young to have more freedom. The pair both came much more in to the game as a result of this space and provided even more telling crosses.
Tunisia plunders a penalty
Tunisia’s initial compact shape had left Wahbi Khazri isolated up front. Their switch to push four men up behind the striker suddenly gave them width and players to get in the box.
Tunisia became more of a threat from crosses. Firstly they saw a good effort deflected wide by Harry Maguire. Next they won a penalty as Fakhreddine Ben Youssef was unceremoniously dropped by a Kyle Walker forearm.
England should’ve defended the passage of play better, but slow cover from both Jesse Lingard and then Ashley Young allowed Dylan Bronn to get his cross in.
Kyle Walker then looked like a full back playing as a centre back. Body position all wrong, he tried to slow down Ben Youssef from getting to the ball. However, he got caught with his arms up as he tried to hinder the Tunisian midfielder who crumpled in a heap holding his face.
Referee Wilmar Roldan pointed to the spot. Ferjani Sassi duly dispatched the kick and somehow it was England 1-1 Tunisia.
Tunisia becomes heavy handed
Tunisia had gained a lifeline from a generous decision by the referee. England had complained about the award of a spot kick and then had more cause for feeling justice wasn’t being done. Harry Kane was frequently being hauled to the floor at set pieces with the referee turning a blind eye in spite of England players pointing out to him what was going on.
Tunisia switches formation
Struggling to cope with England’s wingbacks, Tunisia opted to change to a 5-3-2 for the second half.
The change had a great affect on the match as it slowed us down. Our wingbacks were unable to get in to the spaces they had been enjoying against a back four. In the middle it meant that Tunisia had an extra centre back to have a 3v2 advantage. The additional defender could also cover the passes in-behind that had caused havoc in the first half.
The match spent a long period where England struggled to break Tunisia down. However, with such a defensive scheme, Tunisia couldn’t orchestrate any attacks themselves.
Corners count again
Gareth Southgate made substitutions to change the flow of the game. It was the introduction of Ruben Loftus-Cheek that had the biggest impact. Dele Alli had continued to play after pulling up with a thigh injury, but he wasn’t at 100% and had drifted out of the game after being its biggest factor early on.
Loftus-Cheek was able to introduce more penetrating runs through the inside right channel, as he looked to get down the sides of Tunisia’s three centre backs.
One such run was thwarted by Tunisia. However, Loftus-Cheek’s pressing and closing down Mohamed Ben Amor forced an injury time corner.
Tunisia had been playing five men in a zonal line with only three players man-marking. England had dominated aerially as a result. Tunisia then got very hands on, grappling Kane to the floor on several occasions. The Tunisians then switched to have one less man in the zone and have him join the man markers. They also got tighter and tried to interfere with the England player’s runs by grappling and pulling.
Kieran Trippier swung in another pinpoint cross. Harry Maguire rose above the close attentions of Syam Ben Youssef. As Maguire leapt, Harry Kane had escaped from his marker Yassine Meriah to take up a similar position to his first goal.
With barely any power on a looping ball to work with, Kane’s swivel header was neat, intuitive and accurate to wrong foot the goalkeeper and bulge the back of the net. Kane’s second World Cup goal and one that proved to be the hammer blow against a spirited Tunisian team.
With only seconds left to play, the score was now England 2-1 Tunisia and a richly deserved victory for a team, which kept faith in playing its football.
England 2-1 Tunisia overall
VAR once more proved to be an annoying subplot in a World Cup match. This time it was inconsistency. Tunisia were awarded a penalty for grappling in the box, but in denying England at least two obvious calls, the use of the system was once again thrown under the spotlight.
England was excellent in the first half, but Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard were far too wasteful in front of goal. What’s more, Dele Alli’s injury clearly hampered him. After being the most devastating player on the pitch early on, in staying on the field, England looked light of a player.
Harry Kane came to England’s rescue, but Kieran Trippier was the standout performer. His constant attacking movements and willingness to get in to good crossing positions tormented Tunisia. His accurate deliveries and precision dead balls caused havoc and played a huge part in the winning goal.
Final score: England 2-1 Tunisia.
MOTM: Kieran Trippier.