John Giles: I’m mystified about the motivation behind Gareth Southgate taking such a huge gamble against Tunisia
When I saw England line-out against Tunisia with one midfielder and a posse of attacking players around him, my first thought was that Gareth Southgate is either a genius or monumentally foolish.
At the end of the game, I hadn’t seen anything to confirm that genius was at work and during it, I saw Southgate try an approach he has never used before.
He didn’t do this in qualifying and I have to say, I’m mystified about the motivation behind taking such a huge gamble.
To me, this looked like a clever idea rather than a viable approach to dealing with a limited if dogged Tunisian team who, for all their limitations, still managed to look more comfortable in possession than England did.
I flagged before the tournament started that Southgate’s decision to leave Jack Wilshere at home left him without any playmaker in midfield, but I never imagined that he would come with something like this to compensate. His plan seemed to be to press Tunisia as high up the pitch as he could with fast, attacking players like Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard, but there was nothing to back that up once they had the ball.
Jordan Henderson will run all day, but he won’t create much. As a result, England’s best chance of a goal was always likely to be a set-piece.
England started strongly, but Tunisia were able to absorb most of what went on outside their own penalty area without being unduly troubled. However, any time a set-piece delivery came into the box above shoulder height they were reduced to chaos.
In those circumstances, you need a supreme goal poacher in your team and Southgate got away with a win in this one because he has Harry Kane who made the best of two set-pieces to carve out the three points.
To be fair, England should have had two penalties against the one Tunsia were awarded, a spot-kick which delivered an equaliser after Kane tapped his first goal over the line from five yards.
Kane was rugby tackled twice in the box and I cannot understand why VAR didn’t kick in at that moment.
Match officials must be braver and trust in the technology and I have seen quite a few examples of this since the first game.
Up to now, I think the VAR system has been working quite well but this was one of several examples so far in the tournament when officials should have called play back but didn’t.
As the competition unfolds, VAR will develop and improve and at the very least, we should wait until the group phase is over before rushing to judgement.