Gareth Southgate was proud of his players’ spirit, togetherness and composure on a night when the England manager felt his side got a raw deal from the officials.
Just as the Three Lions’ World Cup opener against Tunisia looked set to end in a draw, Harry Kane glanced home in stoppage time to send the hardy travelling support wild.
The 2-1 victory saw England kick off a major tournament with a win for the first time since 2006 as poor finishing and peculiar officiating did not come back to haunt Southgate’s men.
“Even at 1-1 I was really proud of the performance,” the England boss said.
“I’ve talked a lot in the weeks leading into this game about performance being key. If we hit that level of performance, that’s the bit we can control.
“There were things within the game that we couldn’t control tonight, but we reacted really well to them.
“So, OK, if we had finished 1-1, there would have been a level of disappointment and I understand results back home would be viewed differently.
“But I think the performance was very good, we created a lot of clear-cut chances in the first half, as many as I remember us having. If there’s to be anything levelled at us it would be to be ruthless with those.
“But we recovered from a harsh decision and kept our composure, which pleased me.
“And in the second half we dominated the game and kept our patience and looked for good opportunities rather than just throwing the ball in the box and hoping. So we kept wave after wave of attack.
“At 1-1 , if we’d had to take 1-1, I thought we were disciplined enough defensively that we didn’t leave gaps and weren’t hit on counter-attacks, so I like the controlled manner we did that.
“And our attacking players were a threat all night. We’ve done a lot of work on them and I think we got just reward for that, so I was really pleased with what we did.”
Set plays provided England with both goals in Volgograd, where Southgate was aggrieved not to be awarded a spot-kick.
The VARs somehow ignored the manhandling of Kane after Ferjani Sassi netted from a penalty controversially awarded by referee Wilmar Roldan for a wayward arm by Kyle Walker.
“Well, I think if it’s a penalty at one end, it has to be one at the other,” Southgate said. “That would be the observation.
“I could see why, once the first one is given, that it wasn’t going to be overturned because it wasn’t going to be a clear and obvious error.
“If penalties are going to be given for that then it’s going to be an interesting tournament. I think there were similar offences at the other end of the pitch.
“In terms of Harry, if he doesn’t score tonight I’m sitting answering questions about his ability to score goals in tournament football.
“The only thing he hasn’t done now is score in August. He’s managed to move every other barrier, so for him I am delighted.
“But I know he will feel that the pride in leading his country to a win in a World Cup match is the most important thing.”
Opposite number Nabil Maaloul had nothing to say about the lack of VAR and instead spoke with pride about Tunisia’s display in defeat.
He said: “They broke through our defences and we lost our goalkeeper, which disturbed us a little bit. We played much better in the second half, but it was God’s will after all.”