VOLGOGRAD, Russia (Reuters) - Tunisia’s disciplined defensive formation was gradually worn down by a superior England team and their “optimal striker” Harry Kane, the North African side’s coach lamented after his side’s 2-1 loss in their opening World Cup game on Monday.
England captain Kane scored twice including a stoppage-time winner to dash Tunisian hopes of good start in Group G.
“I think he was behind the victory of the English team. It was him who was always there at the right time. He is the optimal striker,” coach Nabil Maaloul told reporters.
“The spaces that were created by Kane were very scary to us,” added Maaloul, a former Tunisia midfielder.
Tunisia arrived in Russia with a reputation for a solid defense, but they looked shaky early in the game and Kane pounced to put England ahead.
Ferjani Sassi scored the first African goal of the tournament, however, thanks to a 35th-minute penalty, sending the red-and-white contingent of Tunisian fans into raptures.
Maaloul lauded Tunisia, who are playing in their fifth World Cup finals but have never progressed past the group stage.
“The Tunisian side has performed very well and we were able to defend ourselves for 90 minutes. It’s true that they controlled the match toward the end. They have excellent players in terms of speed,” said Maaloul, adding that the England’s height advantage was also crucial.
Maaloul played down the significance of several futile England penalty claims.
“Maybe if I go back and look at match I can see what fouls were committed,” he said.
Tunisia goalkeeper Mouez Hassen, who left the pitch in the 16th minute clutching his arm, suffered a shoulder injury, Maaloul said.
Tunisia are third in Group G, above Panama on goal difference ahead of their next game against Belgium on Saturday.
Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer, editing by Ed Osmond