Harry Kane has warned he is ready to explode at the World Cup after ‘tapering’ his workload to peak at the knockout stages in Qatar.
The England captain, who has three assists from Group B games ahead of Sunday's last-16 clash against Senegal, has followed a similar training plan to the Euros last year, when he started scoring after the group stage and ended up with four goals in total.
He has followed his plan to build momentum into tournaments since feeling he faded at the World Cup in Russia four years ago despite winning the Golden Boot.
“Back in 2018 at the World Cup I scored a lot of goals in the group stage and then felt, not just my goals but performances maybe ran out of steam at the back end of the tournament, so the Euros was something I was really conscious of, trying to taper that so I was physically in a better place and hopefully help me score goals later in the tournament and it worked” he said.
“So this is similar. Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to have scored three or four goals by now and any striker would. But I also feel I am in a good place.”
Kane will address team-mates ahead of facing Aliou Cisse’s team at Al-Bayt Stadium, telling them they are four games away from football's ultimate glory and are now in a separate competition, having qualified from Group B with the best record in the tournament.
“It is almost a separate tournament now and you have four knockout games to prepare for and it is a totally different mindset,” Kane said. “We’ve done the first bit well and we had some good positives and things we need to improve. Now it starts again with a four-game tournament to try and win the World Cup.
“It is where you win tournaments. When you get to knockout games, a lot of the games come down to 1-0s or extra-time and penalty shootouts. You very rarely get a three or four-goal win in the knockout stage. That is when being more clinical and ruthless and taking the one chance you get a game becomes more important.
“At the Euros it worked well for me and helped the team and I feel if I can do similar personally it will put the team in a good place to go as far as we can.”
Kane has also made a fierce defence of Gareth Southgate following criticism of the manager over the summer after Nations League defeats and questions from pundits over his team selection in Qatar.
“A lot of the players were really protective of the manager,” said Kane. “We realised what the turnaround he has made for us as a team, not just on the pitch, but off the pitch with the media, with the fans and it's been a huge difference.
“He's been a fantastic manager and I said then to judge all of us on major tournaments and so far it's been going well. Even going through the group and finishing top, sometimes we kind of take that for granted now because we've had two really successful tournaments.
“Gareth has been the main part in that and from a player's point of view, we're really grateful to have him as our manager, and I think as a country, we should be really grateful to have him as a manager.”
Harry Kane interview: I'm ready for any chance that comes my way
by Mike McGrath
As Harry Kane strolls through Souq Al Wakra Hotel, there are reminders of the goals that have been scored at this World Cup. Next to the swimming pool there is a big screen showing games and while the England captain may not have been on a sun lounger watching full matches, he has been dipping in and out of the action.
Investing yourself in watching the games expends energy and Kane is carefully monitoring his levels. His expectation is to personally add to the 120 goals scored in the group stages in Qatar, now the knockout matches are starting. Those replays of goals are shown all the time, like Vincent Aboubakar’s lob-wedge chip against Serbia, or Richarlison’s scissor-kick facing the same opponents.
“It’s the highest lob I’ve ever seen!” said Kane. “I almost felt like he thought he was offside so had no pressure. That technique from Richarlison was incredible.” Or how about Cristiano Ronaldo claiming one against Uruguay when it technology proved his head did not touch the ball? “If it touched me, I would’ve claimed it. Obviously only Ronaldo knows that. He’s going for a lot of goal records himself. I’m sure he wants it if he did touch it.”
When you are a couple away from being England’s all-time leading scorer, you deal in the currency of goals. It is something Kane has learned to live with since 2016 as Roy Hodgson’s team went down in flames while their striker was taking corners.
Since then he has learned to deal with the pressure of being expected to score. The key is to stay relaxed and stick to the plan. The same routine of omelette and avocado on toast in the mornings and keeping faith in the training schedule to peak in the knockout stages. He has also studied footage of his chances in three Group B games against Iran, USA and Wales where he did not find the net but set up three goals.
“If we were three games at Spurs, and I'd had three assists and we had won two and drew 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,” Kane said.
“You don't score for a couple games and there's a real spotlight and I think, probably going back to Euro 2016, I learned a lot from that because that was a thing I had to deal with.
“I didn't score for a few games and I look back at that tournament and felt a real difference from what it was at club-level to then at major tournament level. I feel like I've learned from every tournament that has come along. I'm ready for any opportunity, I'm ready for any chance that comes my way and hopefully - not just for my sake but for the team as well - that can start happening on Sunday.”
So far in the tournament, the big-name No 9s like Robert Lewandowski and Romelu Lukaku have been eclipsed by the wide forwards in the mould of Kylian Mbappe or Marcus Rashford. Kane, though, falls into a different category of forward who flits from striker to No 10 from match-to-match, depending on the situation he sees.
Should Senegal leave him space to operate high up the pitch on Sunday, Kane will adapt to the circumstances. If there is no path to Edouard Mendy’s goal from that angle, he will drop into No 10.
“Over the last three, four years in terms of club-level and international level in terms of finding space and trying to affect games in different ways rather than just scoring goals,” he said. “I know I will probably always be judged on scoring goals at the end of the day, being a striker, but I always feel like my game is a lot more than that.
“I see where I can affect the play, whether it's dropping deep or staying high and in the box, maybe not getting too many touches one game, but then another game really coming to link up.
“Especially this tournament, you've seen a lot of 0-0s at half-time especially. I feel like the standard of football, all the countries are definitely more organised, more compact. I think people really know that to win a major tournament clean sheets are a huge part of that so maybe focusing more on that side of it, rather than the attacking side.”
Having sat down to talk at England’s Al Wakrah Sports Club base, Kane made a point that he wanted to speak to broadcasters at Qatar National Convention Centre on the eve of the Senegal clash at Al Bayt.
His message is that he is ready to explode into action at the tournament, insisting there is no tiredness that Antonio Conte picked up just before the England captain flew to Qatar. And that his foot injury suffered against Iran was only minor.
“Physically I feel really good. With Antonio, we played a lot of games in a short period of time and he obviously felt that maybe I was looking tired or felt tired but all in all, in terms of a major tournament, I think this is the best physically that I’ll ever be and the players will ever be in terms of playing loads of games,” Kane said.
“We had eight or nine days off and then go into this period again where we are used to playing every three days. In a summer tournament you have to stop for four weeks and get your match fitness back up. In terms of that aspect, for sure I’m in a good place.
“The foot feels good, I feel it’s got better each game, overall I’m happy where I’m at. I feel like trying to peak in these knockout games is the most important thing, time will tell but that is what I’m trying to do.”
Kane is fascinating when talking about the mentality of a striker. The header in stoppage-time against USA? It was worse than missing earlier in the game because there is no time to put it right. “For sure, when you are scoring goals you are a bit more happy around the place, you’re a bit more laid back,” he said.
Staff at Souq Al Wakra have been waving off the team for matches and greeting them on their return, with Kane hoping that when he returns in the early hours of Monday it will be with a place in the quarter-finals secured, and possibly his first goal of the tournament.