England's feel-good factor after win vs. Tunisia could set stage for World Cup run

VOLGOGRAD, Russia -- England are now in uncharted territory; they are in a land of positivity and confidence after Harry Kane's dramatic late winner secured a 2-1 victory against Tunisia in Volgograd to ensure a dream start to Russia 2018.

OK, it is not quite virgin ground for England, but getting off to a winning start in a major tournament is something of a rarity for the 1966 World Cup winners.

Not since Germany 2006, when Sven-Goran Eriksson's team claimed a narrow 1-0 win against Paraguay in Frankfurt, have England got off to a flier in a World Cup, and this was only the sixth time they have managed it in 15 attempts. They have yet to register a win in nine opening games at a European Championship, so if any team can claim to be slow starters on the big stage, it is England, and no country seems to focus so heavily on the fine line between winning and falling short.

"If it had been 1-1, there would have been a level of disappointment, and the result back home would be viewed differently," manager Gareth Southgate said Monday. "But the performance was very good.

"We created a lot of clear-cut chances in the first half, as many as I remember, but we have to learn to be ruthless with those. But even at 1-1, I was really proud of our performance."

Who knows where winning this game against Tunisia will take Southgate's young team? But there can be no denying the value of the feel-good factor that will now infuse England ahead of Sunday's Group G encounter with Panama in Nizhny Novgorod.

There are only extreme highs and extreme lows with England, so there is also a danger that a hard-fought win against limited opposition will trigger unwarranted euphoria and expectation, but Southgate has so far proved to be a calm head in the maelstrom that comes with managing the most success-starved of major football nations.

Yes, there were some negatives in this win -- Raheem Sterling's infuriating search for form on the international stage, Jesse Lingard's wayward finishing, the team's lack of imagination at times -- but with Germany losing their opening game and heavyweights such as Brazil, Argentina and Spain all failing to win on their first outings in Russia, it would be overly critical to focus on the downsides of England's performance.

Ultimately, they won, and aside from the three points that came with the result, they will also benefit from not having to live under a cloud for the next five days.

Southgate and his players will now be able to prepare for Panama with a spring in their step, and this matters for a squad that is England's most inexperienced since the 1962 World Cup. They will be given the opportunity to grow into the tournament and, when England have been successful in World Cups -- that generally means getting to the quarterfinals or beyond -- they have done so by finding some momentum and positivity and tapping into it.

But recent disappointments have weighed heavy on the team.

South Africa 2010 started badly and never really got going for Fabio Capello's team before they were blown away by Germany in the round of 16, while Brazil 2014 was a disaster of two defeats and a draw against Costa Rica before finishing rock bottom of the group. And the most recent major tournament, Euro 2016, also started slowly and chugged along without any kind of uplift until Iceland inflicted humiliation in the round of 16.

When England get off to a bad start, misery seems to infect the whole squad, and that has been the sorry tale of recent tournaments, so Kane's double in Volgograd has enabled them to break the sequence of failure.

They will need to be better than this when they face stronger opponents, but you cannot overstate the importance of belief and confidence for this England squad. Those still bruised by the Iceland experience now have a positive one as their most recent point of reference at a major tournament. They will hear of the celebrations back home, the upbeat coverage that follows and their enhanced popularity.

It could all, of course, evaporate with a slide back to the bad old ways against Panama, but it feels and looks different for England this time. They are more prepared to be bold -- recklessly so at times -- and they were able to keep fighting until the end.

It is always a roller-coaster ride with England, but for once, it is screams of excitement rather than anguish, which are ringing out after this win.