Repino (Russia) (AFP) – Handed a winning start for the first time in a major tournament for 12 years by captain Harry Kane’s injury-time winner against Tunisia, England can look forward to Sunday’s meeting with Panama with a rare sense of World Cup calm.
A two-time Premier League Golden Boot winner, Kane banished any remaining doubts over his ability to perform on the biggest stage for his country with the first double by an English player at the World Cup since Gary Lineker in 1990.
But Kane’s heroics in Volgograd papered over the cracks of his team-mates’ failure to find the net with a host of simple first-half chances.
Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard were particularly culpable and while Kane saved an inquest into England’s profligacy and ponderous second-half performance, Sterling’s place against Panama may now be in jeopardy.
The first media storm of a hitherto relaxed campaign for the Three Lions was brewing on Friday after Gareth Southgate’s planned team was inadvertently revealed when assistant manager Steve Holland’s notes were photographed at training on Thursday.
According to the notes, Marcus Rashford will replace Sterling with Ruben Loftus-Cheek stepping in for Dele Alli, who suffered a thigh injury against Tunisia.
Southgate criticised the media for giving England’s opponents an upper hand.
“If we were to give the opposition the opportunity of having our team it’s a disadvantage to us,” said Southgate.
“So of course our media has to decide if they want to help the team or not.”
In contrast to his 23-goal season at club level for Premier League champions Manchester City, Sterling now hasn’t scored in his last 21 internationals.
However, Rashford refuted suggestions England are too dependent on Kane for goals.
“I don’t think that’s happening in this group,” said the Manchester United striker, who admitted to being an admirer of Kane’s ability to be in the right place at the right time.
“He gets himself in great positons. If we can find him, we will, and, more often than not, he’s going to score.”
At 20, Rashford is just one of a host of exciting young English talents as Southgate took the third youngest squad in the tournament to Russia.
And Holland believes a more clinical touch in front of goal will come with experience.
“It’s psychological, it’s about pushing the players to be match-winners but it is also a process,” he said. “It might just take the time that it takes.
“If you imagine these guys in a couple of years, and I hope I’m still around then, once they’ve become more seasoned at this level, that could be really exciting. It already is now.”
Racking up goals against Panama could be crucial if England are to top Group G.
Highly-fancied Belgium soared to the top of the group by easing past the World Cup debutants 3-0 in their opening game.
Victory in Nizhny Novgorod will guarantee England’s place in the last 16 as long as Tunisia fail to beat Belgium on Saturday.