That opening spell in which they took the lead against Group G opponents Tunisia was as good as it has got from an attacking team in the early throes of the 2018 World Cup. Playing with purpose and verve, they looked slick and incisive, missing only the final ball and the killer touch to finish off durable opponents.
Then, in the second half when the chips were down, they showed great spirit to dig themselves out of a hole. There were strong performances, too; Jordan Henderson in the engine room, Kieran Trippier on the right, John Stones and Harry Maguire at the back.
But as ever with England, it was not as comfortable as it should have been. Cry all you like about the VAR penalty controversies, but Tunisia’s equaliser should not have knocked Gareth Southgate’s side out of their stride as it did.
The way it affected their game was reminiscent of how adversely Liverpool were influenced by the loss of Mo Salah in last month’s Champions League final. It sucked the confidence out of them, and for a time England lost their intent and belief in the same way.
Champions respond to such setbacks positively. England need to be better there.
They also need better options from free-kicks. Two years ago at the Euros, we had a striker taking corners, now it is wing-backs on free-kick duty. Watching Trippier and Ashley Young tamely shoot goalwards made you yearn for the David Beckham era.
But for all the positives and the nagging negatives, their progress in Russia hinges on one thing – Harry Kane.
England’s captain is arguably their only player close to world-class status and he showed against Tunisia that he is ready to take that next step and join the elite. Two chances, two goals. No longer taking corners, he is now converting them.
Success for England in major tournaments depends on a goal-scorer at the top of his game; Geoff Hurst in 1966, Gary Lineker at Italia ’90 and Alan Shearer six years later.
Harry Kane proved on Monday night that he can be that talisman. He cannot do it all, and as the tournament progresses and chances become harder to create, players like Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli need to improve their strike rate.
But with Kane firing, England can go far in this World Cup, irrespective of the other intangibles.