Harry Kane had a message he wanted to deliver: he was ready to explode at this World Cup. And with the last kick of the first-half he did just that. The pin was pulled. The grenade went off. Bang.
The ball from Jude Bellingham, after a wonderful, surging run from the outstanding teenage midfielder, was perfect but so was the way that Kane waited. And waited. It looked like he had waited too long. But, no, this is a master marksman and he stayed calm, he delayed for Edouard Mendy to commit, he knew the defenders would not catch him and he drilled a powerful right-foot shot back across the Senegal goalkeeper and into the net.
After the celebrations - the jump and the little fist pump - the Slovenian referee Ivan Barton blew the whistle and it may as well have been for full-time. England had gone for the jugular, scoring once, then scoring twice and a place in the quarter-finals against France on Saturday was already secure. Senegal, the more dangerous team up until then, were overwhelmed and out.
How Kane needed it. He had talked the talk and now he walked the walk and in that moment he found himself on 52 goals, just one behind Wayne Rooney’s all-time record for England. Will Kane break it at this tournament? That would be an incredible moment and do not bet against it. But then it would always be foolish not to back Kane.
The 29-year-old has played well at this World Cup. Even before he scored he showed again what he has been doing so impressively, playing a part in Jordan Henderson’s goal and teeing up two chances for Bukayo Saka which the winger failed to anticipate. Kane had also missed an opportunity himself, ballooning a shot over the crossbar but – like all the great strikers – he did not allow it to faze him. When the next chance came he took it. Clinically.
Remarkably, in fact, Kane has now had just seven efforts on target across two World Cup, and in 10 games, but has scored every time. It is the best rate since the statisticians at Opta started to compile records. When he is accurate he is absolutely deadly. The goal also meant Kane has 11 at major tournaments for England – overtaking Gary Lineker’s record of 10.
For Kane it is not just about the goals – although secretly it still has to be. He will be measuring himself against the top-scorers at this World Cup, having won the ‘Golden Boot’ four years ago in Russia with six goals, but he has also evolved and matured. This is a striker who has won plenty of individual honours and, for example, it will hurt that he was top-scorer and leading assist maker in the Premier League a couple of seasons ago – when Tottenham Hotspur again ended up without a trophy.
So now it is about winning something. At last. Kane has waited long enough and, as Wayne Rooney said, “Harry Kane is made for these games”. Rooney recognised it. Kane talked about “tapering” himself through the group games, when he did not score, and coming to life in the knock-out stages and it appeared like a constructed argument that needed a bit more evidence. Now he has gone out and provided it.
Before his goal, Kane had not scored or even had a shot on target – there have been five wayward efforts - but he has been England’s best passer, with three excellent assists. Against Iran: just 19 touches, two key passes and two assists; against Wales just 20 touches, two key passes and one assist. It was an economy of effort, as he had suggested. Kane has been playing as a ‘false nine’, even a ‘10’ but his goal was that of a pure centre-forward.
Gareth Southgate righty reasoned that we cannot complain when England are overly-dependent on Kane for goals. And then complain when the goals are spread around the team as they were in the group stages when they scored nine times. But he also knows that Kane needs to score.
Interestingly, and in a sign of his core confidence and self-assurance, Kane told the Football Association that he wanted to do the pre-match media duties. He wanted to get his message – the message he was ready to explode – across. He spoke to the written media and then also wanted to do the pre-match press conference. Just to meet it head on and ram it home. Just to front up. He deliberately made himself the focus which, for some, could add to the pressure.
England’s main man is up and running
Just like the European Championships last summer, when Kane did not score in the group, he struck in the knock-out matches. He did not actually play that well in the last-16 tie against Germany and is certainly in far better overall form with the way he leads England’s attack and takes the responsibility.
“It’s almost a separate tournament now and you have four knockout games to prepare for and it is a totally different mindset,” Kane has said before going on to demonstrate exactly what that mindset means. “Now it starts.” And now he has started. Back on the goals trail and England can only be the better for that because it is unthinkable for them to go deep into the World Cup without Kane scoring.
Southgate made all five substitutions and made them relatively early. But Kane, despite the soreness he has suffered on his foot, despite his importance, stayed on. It showed how much scoring really did matter. There would not be another chance but there was still cuteness and cleverness in Kane’s play and Senegal captain Kalidou Koulibaly struggled to cope.
Up until this game it has not been a World Cup for centre-forwards such as Robert Lewandowski, Romelu Lukaku and, it could be argued, Kane. They have been eclipsed by wide attackers like Marcus Rashford and Kylian Mbappe. Maybe that will continue but England’s main man is up and running. Kane against Mbappe next Saturday? It is set up for an epic clash especially now the England captain is back among the goals.