The Liverpool captain was deployed in a holding midfield role for the Three Lions, who took an early lead through Harry Kane's close-range finish.
Having dominated proceedings following Kane's 11th-minute opener, England began to run out of ideas after Fenjani Sassi's 33rd-minute penalty had given the Tunisians an unexpected lifeline. Winning the first game is always massive'.
The Colombian official controversially awarded the African side a penalty when Kyle Walker made minimal contact with his opponent.
But Harry Maguire won a header from a corner and Kane was on hand at the far post to nod in the victor before being mobbed by his ecstatic teammates.
The goal took a lot of the sting out of England's challenge, and although they dominated possession after the break, their attack was missing the thrust of the first half.More news: Croatia drop Nikola Kalinic after he declines to enter as substitute
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"I think we deserved the win", he said. We had to keep creating chances, we didn't play as well second half but they defended deep. Hassen saved acrobatically but Kane was on hand to tap home the rebound with his right foot and open his World Cup account.
"Maybe there was a bit of justice at the end", Kane said.
England allowed carelessness to creep in at the back and offered a limited Tunisia team the chance to get back into a game they should have been out of within the opening half-hour.
"It was really warm, we wanted to start really well and we did".
England pushed in search of regaining the lead throughout the second period - and they did so in the 91 minute when Kane glanced in the victor.
In this year's tournament, the draw put two of the four longest shots in the 32-team field in Group G - Tunisia and Panama - putting the expectation on England and Belgium to reach the knockout stage.