Sunday 26 May 2019

John Aldridge: Any doubts I had about England were reinforced by what I saw against terrible Tunisia

England manager Gareth Southgate celebrates after the match
England manager Gareth Southgate celebrates after the match

John Aldridge

Justice was done as England beat Tunisia 2-1 in Volgograd on Monday night – but I still don't see Gareth Southgate's side making an impact in the latter stages of this World Cup.

England fully deserved to beat cynical opponents who did everything they could to try and deceive the match officials from start to finish in a game that did nothing to promote the use of the VAR technology.

The Tunisian players had clearly been watching videos of Sergio Ramos dragging Mohamed Salah into submission in the Champions League final as they deployed similar tactics to try and nullify Harry Kane's threat from set-plays.

How on earth did the VAR system not pick up the two blatant fouls on Kane as he was wrestled to the floor? That is what we brought the system in for and yet it was not used when a clear foul in the box had been missed by the match officials.

It is not the first time we have seen VAR misused in this World Cup and I feel it is a real shame that we are spurning the chance to make good use of a system that could be beneficial to the game if used correctly.

In addition, the referee appeared to be keen to help them in their attempts to push the rules of the game to the limit, with his acceptance of their time wasting, diving and cheating bizarre to see.

For that reason alone, justice was done as Kane snatched England's last-minute winner, but I wouldn't go along with the view aired by some that Southgate's side were anything better than average in their Group G opener.

We all thought England had big holes in their make-up heading into this tournament and while their defensive weak spots were not exposed by a dreadful Tunisia side, they struggled to find a way to break down their opponents after the break.

We have seen it all before from England in a major tournament, with decent players failing to perform at their best and looking like the occasion got to them on a night when they knew they dare not lose.

Gary Lineker said on the BBC that England's display was "exceptional", but that was over the top as they were up against second-rate opposition and were lucky to get away with a win in the final seconds of the game.

Exceptional? I'd say acceptable would be a better way to describe that performance and just imagine how the English media would have reacted if Kane did not get that goal at the end. They would have savaged Southgate and his players as only they can.

Their own press pack has been the biggest enemy of the England team for as long as I can remember and while they have watered down their expectations for this World Cup, failing to beat Tunisia would have changed their tone in an instant.

That grilling will be put on hold for a week or so now as England will stick two or three goals past Panama on Sunday, a side even worse than Tunisia, but they will have real problems in their final group game against Belgium and even more problems when they get into the knock-out stages.

Eden Hazard will give them real trouble in that Belgian game as their back three lack pace and will get caught out at crucial moments, but that debate is for next week.

All that mattered for now was that England got the win in their opening game of the World Cup, but the doubts I had about them heading into the tournament were reinforced by what I saw on Monday evening.

They will get out of a group featuring two poor sides in Tunisia and Panama and they may even scrape through a round in the knock-out phase, but even in a competition lacking a genuinely top-class side, I don’t believe they will get beyond the quarter-finals.

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