Posted: 6/19/2018


        When manager Garreth Southgate made Harry Kane the youngest ever England captain age 24 he had a reason. He wanted to give the Spurs striker a vote of confidence after his lack of goals at EURO 2016. Instead of taking corner kicks he placed himself in the box to do his duty to score for Queen and Country, and he did just that. 

      In 15 World Cup openers the Three Lions have only won five, starting with the 2-0 victory over Chile in front of 27,000 at Maracana in 1950. Stan Mortensen and Wilf Mannion were the scorers, before losing 1-0 to USA in Belo Horizonte and then 1-0 to Spain back at the Maracana in front of 76,000. I was lucky to be at two of those winning starts, in Estadio Jalisco, Guadalajara 2-0 v Romania in 1970 and again at San Mames in Bilbao in 1982 a 3-1 defeat of France.

       In 1987 I sat next to a frail Wilf Manion at Maracana for the Flamengo - Vasco da Gama derby with firecrackers, flares and chanting and he held onto me tightly in fear. I watched Stan Mortensen many times at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool starting about 1952, paying 9d to take 3 bricks in my back pack to stand on to see over the retaining wall ... not far from where his statue is these days outside the ground.  The very first televised World Cup match I watched was Belgium 4 v England 4 from Geneva, Switzerland in 1954 on the new Eurovision network of about 8 countries.

     At the Volgograd Arena on the banks of the River Volga Tunisian fans outnumbered those from Blighty. The FA had sold 2,000 tickets and maybe 1,000 more from FIFA, compared with 5,000 fans travelling up the Amazon to watch England lose to Italy 2-1 four years ago.  Harry Kane scored both goals, the second one deep into added time after a penalty in the 33rd minute had brought the teams level.

        England took off like fire and fury and could have been 3 or 4 up in the first quarter. Set plays were playing havoc with the North African defenders and  their goalkeeper was a very busy man, and left the field with a shoulder injury. Then it quietened down and England found it difficult to penetrate the opposition's packed defence. Kyle Walker put his arm across Fakreddine Ben Yousse, who went down  like a felled log and the Colombian referee was correct in awarding a penalty.  Jordan Pickford of Everton chose correcty and dived to his right and got one finger to the ball of Sassi's well placed kick, but the speed escaped his grasp.

      Kieran Triper was whipping in corners and other set plays were fast and furious but chances were not executed well.  The match was a bit like The Three Lions and Hyenas . You have see the wildlife documentaries of smaller animals jumping on older lions in packs. Well twice Harry Kane was pulled down in the area by Ferjani Sassi and no VAR intervention in Moscow far, far away. Two penalties would have been justice for sure. It was in the 11th minute that Kane scored his first after an Ashley Young corner. John Stones headed to the keeper  Mouez Hassan who made a save but Kane scored from the rebound.

      Lets not get carried away, This was no Brazil, Spain or Portugal in action. Raheem Steling started well but was justly replaced with  Marcus Rashford injecting urgeny and vim  midway in the second half.. England flew three hours home in the middle of the night to their base near St.Petersburg and journey to Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday to confront first timers Panama, who were well beaten 3-0 by Belgium.

  Gareth jumped for joy on the sidelines as Kane's header went in for the three points. Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan, who sent off the wrong player in the Confederations Cup last year was either not able to see the two fouls on Kane or the VAR team in Moscow were out for a vodka party. Food for thought at FIFAs luxury Moscow den.