World Cup 2018: Harry Kane the hero as England scrapes past Tunisia

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England kept their long suffering fans on tenterhooks until the game's closing minutes when team captain Harry Kane headed in the winner in a 2-1 victory at Russia 2018.

(CNN) — Few countries fail to live up to national expectations at big tournaments so consistently as England.

And in a sweaty Volgograd on Monday, England kept their long suffering fans on tenterhooks until the game's closing minutes when team captain Harry Kane headed in the winner in a 2-1 victory at Russia 2018.

Kane had opened the scoring for England — his first goal in a World Cup — before a penalty from Ferjani Sassi pulled Tunisia level.

Kane's second goal gave England their first victory at a World Cup finals since they beat Slovenia in the group stages of South Africa 2010.

And with pre-tournament favorites such as Brazil, Germany and Argentina all getting off to faltering starts, England will be happy to stay in touch with Group G rivals Belgium who defeated Panama 3-0 earlier on Monday.

For Tunisia, defeat marks a 12th straight World Cup finals match without a win, a run that stretches all the way back to Argentina in 1978.

Only 2,500 England fans made the trip to Volgograd, according to the British embassy in Russia.

Political relations between Britain and Russia have been strained after the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal earlier this year.

Those who did make the journey to Volgograd had to deal with an influx of flying insects which had engulfed the stadium before the match.

Players could be seen spraying themselves with insect repellent prior to kick-off.

Once the action got underway, however, there seemed to be little problem for either side save for the odd midge that required swatting aside.

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Jesse Lingard's early strike was turned away by Mouez Hassen in the Tunisia goal as England started brightly.

Gareth Southgate's team didn't have long to wait before the deadlock was broken. John Stones' bullet header was clawed away by Hassen but Kane was on hand to fire in the rebound.

Hassen would soon have to leave the pitch after picking up a shoulder injury, to be replaced by Farouk Ben Mustapha.

Tunisia equalized on 34 minutes after a straying Kyle Walker arm caught Fakhreddine Ben Youssef in the box.

Referee Wilmar Rodan of Colombia immediately pointed to the spot and Sassi cooly slotted past Jordan Pickford to score the first goal by an African side at Russia 2018.

England seemed riled by the concession of the penalty and Lingard twice came close to restoring the lead before half time.

While the second period failed to provide the same level of entertainment, Kane's late strike ensured there was a dramatic denouement.

Back in England, fans watching on a big screen at Brighton Beach on the country's south coast celebrated wildly.

But the mood was more somber in Tunisia where many had gathered to follow the action at the ancient Roman Coliseum of in El-Jem, south of Tunis.

Tunisia will now look to bounce back in its second game against the much fancied Belgium while England will play World Cup debutants Panama.

Belgium beats Panama

In the end experience, talent and know-how told as Belgium swept aside underdogs Panama -- but the performance was not as emphatic as the 3-0 scoreline suggests.

Panama had never competed at a World Cup before and such was the country's joy at qualifying for Russia 2018 that President Juan Carlos Varela declared a national holiday.

Few fancied the South Americans to trouble Belgium, but for 46 minutes the team ranked 55 in the world caused Roberto Martinez's men a headache.

It was only in the second half that the Red Devils made sure they did not to follow in the footsteps of Germany, Argentina and Brazil in succumbing to a surprise result in their opening game of the tournament.

A stunning volley from Dries Mertens and two goals from Romelu Lukaku sealed victory and three points for a Belgium team with trickier opponents, in the form of England and Tunisia, to come.

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Such is the talent at Belgium's disposal — Manchester City's Kevin de Bruyne, Chelsea's Eden Hazard, Manchester United Lukaku — that the squad has been labeled the country's 'golden generation.'

The expectation on the squad is justified, with the Red Devils scoring a joint European record of 43 goals in an unbeaten qualifying campaign.

But, as Belgium manager Martinez said before the match, "World Cups don't respect any generations" and so it proved in the first half as an edgy Belgium failed to impress.

For possession and territory, it was Belgium's half, but they lacked urgency and only managed four attempts on target and, understandably, Panama's traveling fans were ecstatic when the whistle blew for halftime.

Mertens forced a save from Jaime Penedo in the sixth minute and captain Roman Torres nicked the ball from Lukaku's path for what looked likely to be a simple tap-in, but first-half highlights were short and unspectacular.

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The opening goal was worth the wait, however, with Mertens, standing to the right of goal, volleying into the opposite side from 12 yards.

Those expecting a Belgium procession from there on were to be disappointed as Michael Murillo was given freedom to roam into the opposition box and only a fine save from Thibaut Courtois prevented the underdogs from leveling.

But when Lukaku headed home De Bruyne's peachy pass from close range in the 69th minute for his 37th international goal, the result was in little doubt.

Six minutes later, after being put through by the relatively quiet Hazard, Lukaku coolly slotted home for his second and ended the game as a contest.

This story was first published on CNN.com "Harry Kane the hero as England scrape past Tunisia"