The moment the referee went to the monitor after Mason Mount was fouled, England fans up and down the country celebrated like they’d just seen a goal.
Can you blame them? After all, handing a penalty to Harry Kane is just about the surest of sure things in football. His record from the spot speaks for itself – and given he’d already converted one earlier in the match, the 29-year-old seemed all but certain to double his tally and restore parity in the match.
Then the unthinkable happened.
For that one brief moment, the composure in front of goal that has defined Kane’s career deserted him. The England captain blazed his shot over the bar, spurning the best chance his side would have to draw level and shattering their World Cup hopes in one ballooned kick of the ball.
This was no ordinary England World Cup exit, brought on by subpar performances and a lack of cohesion. Having pushed France all the way and arguably been the better side, this was England’s game to lose. And lose it they did.
On a night where the headlines should have been about Kane equalling Wayne Rooney’s goal tally in an England shirt, instead they will point to him as the reason for the Three Lions’ early departure from Qatar.
In a way, this has been Kane’s career in a nutshell. His ability has not been questioned for many years now; we all know how good he is, how prolific he is in front of goal, how dizzyingly sophisticated his footballing brain is. He is the greatest English footballer of his generation by some distance and will most likely be both England and Tottenham Hotspur’s all-time leading goalscorer by the end of the 2022/23 season.
Yet for all his brilliance, Kane has not yet been able to show his true abillity in high-stakes knockout football. His trophy cabinet remains empty, and the list of high-profile matches in which he has failed to make the difference grows more auspicious by the year.
Ask any Spurs fan what they think of Kane, and they will wax lyrical about his prodigious talents. They will tell you he is the best player they’ve seen in decades, and they aren’t lying. He really is that good. But take club biases out of the equation, and it is understandable why England fans may still have doubts about Kane’s ability.
For all his strengths, Kane is not a player who makes the game look easy. He is not the most aesthetically pleasing footballer around, lacking the pace of Kylian Mbappe or the effortless close control of Lionel Messi. While his passing range and goal-scoring ability are second-to-none, he does not have the natural grace of these players, and has had to work harder to reap his rewards in football – especially as he plays for a club that cannot simply steamroll the league every season.
Kane has never been able to command respect and adoration in the same way that his peers do. A quick look at his numbers will tell you he has been comfortably among the very best in the game over the last decade, yet he still does not have the reputation to match.
To paraphrase Giorgio Chiellini, this is the history of the Harry Kane. And he is quickly running out of time to re-write that history.
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