A just result in a game that went south. The real shame of the Walker PK call is that, the situation being what it was, it robbed us of what might have been a much more entertaining game, the game that we had up to that point, actually. I didn’t care for the call, but acceptable if this is a referee who wants to crack down on grabbing and the like on crosses. He was anything but that. England had a very strong first half but the profligacy in front of the net wasted what might have been avalanche to bury a stunned Tunisia, and once the PK came, Tunisia got a little belief, and then came out possessing some and trying to just take the air out of the game. They were a professional side. I’ve seen worse time wasting, certainly, but they played to tie, barely attacked, and it was a very closed pitch for England.
And England is not Spain, not be a long shot. Picking the locks of a tightly packed and pretty skilled set of defenders was tough, and the game became a grinder. In the end, the English Armada delivered the day, with Stones and Maguire winning initial headers that Kane neatly tucked away, including a very tidy twisting header at the end, a lot harder to get that right than it seems until you’ve tried (and missed) multiple times. On to the takeaways.
Big thumbs up for Harry Maguire, who was not only a powerhouse in the air, but surged forward all second half, kind of doing what you might hope Ashley Young might have been able to do on a few occasions. I’ve impressed by his gusto all year at Leicester: winner’s mentality, courageous, and good speed for a guy of his size. Southgate got this one spot on.
The back 3 looked really strong. Walker prefers right back but his speed is a huge asset in a back 3. Stones played one of those games that reminds you why Pep Guardiola made him one of the highest paid defenders in the world. Absolute howitzer of a header on the opener, cool in possession, and imperious technique on his passes. Minus the arm bar, they were very strong. As much as I’d prefer Eric Dier on the field somewhere, they looked great. Should he be in front of Henderson? Tough call--Henderson’s a leader, a battler, Dier the cooler and more technical player. The problems didn’t come from back.
We all know Ashley Young’s limitations. He usually serves great balls, doesn’t lose the ball too much. That’s about it. If Trippier’s going to take the free kicks, his value is diminished. Rose is not the second coming at left back, either, but the lack of any penetration on this side was a big problem.
Sterling...I just can’t...how can it be that a player can make so many bad touches in to many important places, again and again, and then perform at a very high level on the next day? In my England preview I suggested that his value is wickedly inflated by playing with De Bruyne and Silva, who deliver him buckets of chances. He regularly botches a bunch but gets so many that he scores a bunch. The most basic lapses of concentration from a player at this level would be stunning, but he does it with some regularity. It was the worst performance I’ve seen from any player so far this Cup. The next game out, he might win them the game, but a dreadful day.
I tipped Lingard for a big day, and he didn’t live up to it. Got into some great places (a tireless and clever runner) but didn’t deliver, and I’m pretty sure he called Rashford off on Loftus-Cheek’s cut back cross, and then failed to connect. Rashford was understandably livid. I trust Lingard to do better next time out, but this was subpar and could have cost them the game.
The subs: Southgate’s calls went well here. Rashford added an immediate jolt to the game, creating opportunities and turning his man. He’s got more pace than Sterling as well. Loftus-Cheek played very well, possessing in tight spaces, taking some initiative and risks. He’s a big lad gives England a different kind of look.
Kane: The legend continues. Not the greatest game but he is unflappable and sure in a way that England haven’t been at least since Shearer, and maybe beyond that.
The England/Belgium game is exciting to consider. I think England’s pace on the wings, particularly if Rashford can run at Vertonghen, would be fun to watch. Whether they can get hold of the ball in midfield is much more questionable. But it will be fun to see England operating against a team that isn’t simply going to sit back. England will struggle against a compact and defensive side (like Uruguay in 2014). But they may not have to face many teams other than Panama who will pack it in. The open the pitch, the better their possibilities. Somehow, though, you sense that they'll find a novel way to give up a goal in every match.