Monday 24 September 2018

Kane focuses on bigger picture for England

England's Harry Kane. Photo: PA
England's Harry Kane. Photo: PA

Sam Wallace

As he lingered a while in Kaliningrad's Arena Baltika on Thursday night, Harry Kane said that he could understand why he sat out England's defeat to Belgium, although he had no concerns when it came to him picking up the goalscoring thread he had begun ten days earlier.

The most notable absentee from Gareth Southgate's second-string selection, the tournament's leading scorer, had presented himself for interview post-match looking fresh. As the debate began about whether Southgate had called it right to make eight changes, lose the game, draw Colombia and - he hopes - pitch England into the softer side of the draw, Kane was emphatic about one thing.

England might have stopped scoring, with a blank in the 1-0 defeat to Belgium after eight in two games, but Kane himself had not stopped. "In my last game I scored a hat-trick and that's how I look at it," he said. "Maybe if I played [against Belgium] and didn't score, I'd be thinking, 'I didn't score in the last game', but I'm coming off the back of a hat-trick and I'm ready to go in a very important game for us. Confidence is high with all the lads. We have been enjoying it so far."

Kane is still just 24 but even the greatest careers rarely feature more than four World Cup finals, and these kind of days must be seized. He approaches whatever heights he is obliged to scale with the usual affability - be that a place in the first team at Tottenham Hotspur, an international cap, a Premier League golden boot, then another, or now carrying his country's hopes. He learned that early in the professional game, and treats inquiries about the potential for World Cup immortality as he might once have surveyed Millwall's play-off hopes.

"The aim is to take it to another level," he said. "The last two years we've been doing well and building the way we want to play and it's worked right up until now. But now it is the business end. There's going to be a bit more pressure on us now but it's important for us to have that mentality just to be calm in those situations, enjoy it still. This is what we train for and work hard for - these big moments."

This is not a great psychological diversion - he means all this. All those years striving in the Spurs academy, then out on loan. They were all small steps, occasionally unforgettable, mostly mundane, towards days such as Tuesday. It cuts both ways, however, because when you bring up the question of measuring himself against the very best in the world, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, he tends not to blink at that either.

There is no instinct to defer to them or place himself in another category. Asked about the presence of those and others in the final rounds, Kane said that was ample "motivation" for him to match their achievements. "It's what the World Cup is all about, the big players stepping up for their countries. I'm proud to be part of that.

"For me, it's about controlling everything I can and making sure I'm as fit and healthy and recovered as I can be for each game. And just take the confidence from the last couple of weeks into the next game and hope everything goes our way."

Does he feel like he will score every time he steps on the pitch? "Yeah, I think so. Especially when balls are just dropping in for you - you can't wait to get out there. You feel you're going to get chances and that feeling is what helps you find chances on the pitch. I'm ready for everything, whether it is a penalty, a set-piece. I try to practise all different types of situations."

It is that notion of practice and preparation again, the trust in the methods that have taken him this far and the belief there is no reason they cannot take him further. He would like to have played against Belgium, that much was clear, but he is low-maintenance, a footballer of the modern generation who is used to being told that the data says he needs rest or that every squad benefits from a little rotation.

In the corridors leading out of the Arena Baltika, the Belgium players from the Premier League greeted their England counterparts like old friends, even those who did not share club loyalties. Romelu Lukaku must have stopped every Englishman that walked past him for a friendly word. It did not feel like the aftermath of a World Cup match and perhaps it never was. For Kane, an easygoing man who becomes the obsessive on the pitch, it was already behind him.

He has been practising penalties and certainly there were no problems against Panama. He also mentioned Allan Russell, the strikers' coach, who has been integral in devising free-kick routines.

If asked, Kane will talk about Euro 2016 and the lessons of defeat to Iceland, but it seems to have faded from his memory long ago. "It's totally different now. New manager. A lot of new lads in the group. It was disappointing but we have had a couple of years to work on how we want to play."

The overall impression? He seems ready. "Everyone thought I was going to play today because I wanted the golden boot," he said, "but there's a bigger picture, a bigger priority and that's to go as far as we can and that's what we have to focus on." Telegraph

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