Harry Kane admits that he can dwell on the misses only not for long. The problem for him after the big one against the USA in England’s second group game at the World Cup was that it happened in the third minute of added time. “So you come off the pitch straight away and you know you won’t get another opportunity,” the captain says.
When Kane crashed a free header off target from Luke Shaw’s free-kick, it meant the game finished 0-0. “When you go away and dissect it, for sure I’m my own biggest critic and I know when I can do better,” he says.
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“Even the first chance I had in the USA game when the guy [Walker Zimmerman] blocked it, as soon as it happened I thought I should have gone near post instead of across [goal]. When I watched it back it was probably the better option.”
It has been a curious World Cup for Kane, the two chances against the USA his only clear ones. Before Sunday night’s last-16 showdown with Senegal, he has had four attempts on goal – none of which have been on target.
His game has evolved, his passing increasingly to the fore; that ability to drop into pockets of space and play in a runner. The Tottenham centre-forward finished the group stage with three assists as England advanced with seven points. But Kane is Kane because of his goals and he knows, fairly or otherwise, he will be judged on how many he gets. The pressure is intense.
“World Cups and major tournaments in general are such a unique situation,” he says. “If we were three games at Spurs, I’d had three assists and we had won two and drawn one, everyone would probably be saying: ‘Look at the form I’m in.’ Whereas when you get to a major tournament, it almost becomes the opposite. You don’t score for a couple games and there’s a real spotlight.”
Kane does not feel the burn – mainly because of his on-pitch ability to compartmentalise. It has been said before but it is worth saying again. Unusually for a goalscorer, Kane is not a confidence player. The misses do not affect him. He always backs himself to take the next opportunity.
“If I miss a chance or a couple of chances I think about it,” he says. “But I feel like my strength of mind is when I’m in the game and in the moment I am able to switch off and think about the next one that is coming my way – be ready for the next opportunity.
“When the game’s over and I’m back and watching the clips, for sure I look at where I could have done better with my chances. It is just about consistently doing the right things and being in the right places; not thinking too much about being somewhere, just letting it happen. Throughout my career that has made me really consistent.”
Kane’s mindset has been shaped by his previous tournament experiences and it is impossible not to make the comparison with the European Championship of last year. Then, as now, Kane went through the group phase without scoring, although there is a difference. Whereas he laboured sorely in those ties, his all-round play has been good in Qatar.
Kane cut loose in the knockout rounds at the Euros, scoring four times as England finished as the runners-up – and as he felt he would. Before the last-16 game against Germany, Kane had sat down with a group of newspaper writers and calmly explained how his previous toils meant nothing. It was all about the next chance and he would take it, which he did – igniting his tournament with the second goal in the 2-0 win.
“At the 2018 World Cup, I scored a lot of goals in the group stage,” he says, reflecting on the six that would be enough for him to win the Golden Boot. “Then I felt not just my goals but my performances maybe ran out of steam at the back end of the tournament. So at the Euros, it was something I was really conscious of – trying to taper that so I was physically in a better place and hopefully score goals later in the tournament. This is similar.
“Don’t get me wrong. I would have loved to have scored three or four goals by now, any striker would. But I also feel I am in a good place. In the knockout games, it is where being more clinical and ruthless in taking the one chance you get becomes more important. At the Euros, it worked well for me and if I can do similar here, it will put the team in a good place.”
Kane goes back to the start of his England journey – to Euro 2016, his first tournament, when he was put on corner-taking duty and did not score in his four appearances, culminating in the last-16 disaster against Iceland.
“I learned a lot from Euro 2016 because that was a thing I had to deal with,” he says. “I felt a real difference from where I was at club level to being at major tournament level. I feel like I’ve learned from every tournament that has come along.”
All of what Kane has lived now goes into the Senegal game. He has endured fitness scares, with the Spurs manager, Antonio Conte, saying just before the Premier League season paused that Kane was exhausted. Then came the knock to the top of his foot in England’s opening group tie against Iran. Kane says “the foot feels good, it’s got better each game” and, also, that “this is the best physically I’ll ever be in terms of a major tournament.” (He always says that.)
While passing the time at the team hotel, Kane is not gorging on the other matches. “We have them on all the time and I’ll flick in and out of them,” he says. “I wouldn’t say I’m religiously watching them. The World Cup takes a lot out of you and maybe saving a bit of energy by not watching the games is a good idea.”
Kane has eyes only for the next opportunity. He is ready.