The blow that finally may stop everybody talking arrived in the very last moments of the first half.
Arriving like all good centre forwards do on the end of a rapid England break from deep, Harry Kane took one touch of the ball with this right foot to steady himself and then drove it hard and straight in to the back of the net with his second.
There was nothing particularly cultured about it. Nothing that Kane did that would take years of practice to master. But the goal was despatched with an element of conviction and confidence that the England captain has always had and perhaps will never lose.
It was Kane’s first goal of this World Cup and it has arrived just in time.
Harry Kane stepped up on the big occasion for England in their Round of 16 game with Senegal
The 29-year-old netted the second goal for England against Senegal on the stroke of half-time
After England shook themselves from an early torpor that threatened to give Senegal a platform in the game that they had done little to earn, they cut loose to bury the champions of Africa under three superbly made and taken goals. It was desperately easy from that point on.
It is France here next week in the quarter-finals, though, and that will be a different level of contest altogether. That is likely to be a game settled and decided by small margins.
France are the defending champions and are beginning to look like it. If England are to beat them it is likely that Kane will need to be heavily and directly involved.
So this goal and indeed his role in the creation of two others came at a timely juncture and may now silence the seemingly endless and dreary debate about how he should play and, occasionally, whether he should actually be in the team at all.
The England skipper brings so much more to Gareth Southgate’s side than just pure goals
It says something about English football and what many people seem to expect of it that we have to regularly listen to that conversation.
Kane’s numbers – a half century of goals for England and almost 200 in the Premier League – would suggest that he knows what he is doing, that his style of play has tended to work over the years. But still he has to hear those who seek to tell him to do it differently and that noise only grows louder when he endures spells during which the goals won’t come.
There will always be those who seek to tell the 29-year-old how to play. They tell him he spends too much time in the wrong areas of the field, coming deep in search of the ball instead of occupying the traditional number nine’s territory on the edge of the opposition penalty area.
Kane’s performance against Senegal should silence the seemingly endless and dreary debate about how he should play and, occasionally, whether he should actually be in the team at all
All centre forwards have periods when they don’t score goals. Kane has fewer than most. But when he does have one the tolerance level of some England followers tends to be pretty low.
It was the same in the European Championships in 2021. Kane was not prolific in the early stages of that tournament either and did not score a goal until he converted England’s second in the last-16 game against Germany. So there were some neat comparisons here.
In the Euros he then went on to score in his next two games. It would be no surprise if he does the same here in Qatar even if next weekend’s meeting with France back at this stadium will present England with a standard of opponent they have not met so far during this tournament.
Kane had failed to score a goal for England in three group stage games at the 2022 World Cup
Early on in this game, it was not easy for Kane. Senegal presented a bank of four defenders with a holding pair stationed in front of them. When England moved forwards in to the Africans’ half, their wide players dropped back in to complete what was essentially an defensive eight.
With Jude Bellingham now detailed to link England’s holding pair of Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson with Kane, the captain seemed reluctant to drop in to the pockets he naturally feels drawn to. When he did he found the Senegal attention to be direct and physical. The whack Kane took from Abdou Diallo in the 14th minute was a fearsome one and should have led to a booking.
England were not good for half an hour. They didn’t move the ball quickly enough and played far too much of their football back and across in front of the two banks of green. Rarely did an England runner get up and beyond Kane to provide an option.
The England captain is now one goal behind Wayne Rooney as England’s all-time record scorer
Kane also won the Golden Boot at the 2018 World Cup, scoring six times for the Three Lions
During this period England struggled to create chances but the two best passes of the night still came from Kane. Both could have benefited Bukayo Saka if the Arsenal player had shown slightly sharper anticipation.
Kane was also involved in the two England goals that sandwiched his own. The first one – the goal from Jordan Henderson that transformed the whole feel and flow of the game in an instant – involved a Kane pass to Bellingham. Then, after half time, he was tackled when in possession down the left, allowing Phil Foden to set up Saka.
This is the worth of Kane. A truly world class scorer of goals, he is also more than that and quite simply should be allowed to be.
It was interesting to note that Gareth Southgate left Kane on for the whole game, even when it had become a procession. Maybe he sensed his skipper still needed to find more confidence. If so, it’s unlikely to be true.
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