Rabat - While African football fans await Senegal’s first appearance in this World Cup against Poland today at 4 p.m. (Moroccan time), four African teams have so far lost their openers, with many conceding dramatic late goals when a draw seemed assured.
Rabat – While African football fans await Senegal’s first appearance in this World Cup against Poland today at 4 p.m. (Moroccan time), four African teams have so far lost their openers, with many conceding dramatic late goals when a draw seemed assured.
Tunisia, ranked 21st in FIFA’s latest rankings, only showed glimpses of that quality in some 30 minutes of the first half against England. The North Africans chose to retreat and secure a draw against an English side that looked more tactically organized and more confident in the duels.
England opened the score-line very early at the 12th minute, its Tottenham talisman striker Harry Kane scoring his first in the Russian campaign. That was not even very early after all, given that a super challenge from England’s Jesse Lingard was saved by Tunisian goalkeeper Mouez Hassen as early as the 3rd minute.
There immediately followed a Dele Ali-Lingard-Sterling masterful triangular move to propel Sterling in the Tunisian box; but the referee quickly went for offside, taking the pressure off Sterling.
Then came the 12th minute for Kane to deliver for England on a set-piece. Ashley Young’s fine corner was superbly headed by John Stones. But Hassen was again present, almost impeccable, except for this time, his otherwise excellent save fell to the feet of the Tottenham striker who happened to be at the right place at the right time.
With 1-0 in the first fifteen minutes of the game, England was sure to now penetrate the Tunisian defensive wall. But for as long as the first half lasted, England’s tactical superiority proved impotent, unable to put in the creativity needed to transform domination into advantage.
At minute 35, England’s tempo was dampened after Ferjani Sassi’s equalizer goal on a penalty. If the penalty seemed uncalled for, a case of referee generosity, it had some striking similarities to the controversial Swiss equalizer against Brazil on Sunday night.
VAR (video assistant referee) has not made refereeing irreproachable just yet, and teams will have to count on performance and decisiveness alone to claim victory in this World Cup which has already suffered a considerable number of bad referee decisions.
The second half picked up from where the slumbering first had left off, England determined to claim a victorious opener while Tunisia sat back and waited, suggesting that 1 point would be considered mission accomplie. England put on more pressure and more engagement in the second half, looking for a goal to comfort itself in its Russian adventure.
But with the high number of mistakes that come with lack of focus and a certain rush to make a vivid impression on fans back home, England kept falling in the tactical trap of the Tunisian bloc.
One expected more from Africa’s best team—if FIFA rankings mean anything, that is.But somehow, in that inferiority complex that seems to be eating away African talents at international levels, Tunisia failed itself, excruciatingly unable to call upon the individual talents and cohesive team spirit that have given it the continental and global spot it is currently enjoying.
Finally, England’s Harry Kane scored his second header on another corner. That goal, like his first, bore the unmistakable Kane trademark: sheer luck that comes with a pristine sense of placement inside opposition boxes. But when luck follows a series of trials and hard-fought attempts at goal, it becomes merit.
England, however slack they may have appeared on some occasions on Monday night, deserved the two points they so painfully pulled off Tunisia’s grip.
Meanwhile, like Egypt, Morocco, and Nigeria before them, Tunisians can count on the traditional African gospel of protracted hope, a certain belief in the boundlessness of possibilities, an exercise in convincing themselves that anything is possible in the game, even when future challenges are more worrisome than the past ones to which they so frustratingly succumbed.
To bounce back, however, to undo their languid and lackluster opening games, these African sides will need to show more focus, more determination, and ultimately more ruthlessness inside the boxes of opposing teams: you do not sit back and wait when you need goals.