England needed Harry Kane in a big way in their opening match of the World Cup, and he delivered.
In England’s opening match of the World Cup against Tunisia, Kane didn’t shy away from the occasion. Probably just behind Ronaldo’s hattrick performance, Kane’s two goal display is the best individual performance we have seen so far. He started the game brightly by tucking away the first goal of the game in the first fifteen minutes and crucially converting the winner in the waning seconds of the match. He showed his knowledge, fitness and concentration by how he scored his goals. You can see all three of these qualities on display by taking a closer look.
Now, starting with the first goal.
The first goal came off a corner kick. The Tunisians set up a defensive combination of zonal defending and man marking, but for the most part a zone. They only used three men to mark four England attackers who were making their runs in the box. Kane, who was one of these four attackers, picked up on this and made his mind up well before the ball was delivered that against this type of defending he could score a goal by getting to a second ball. During a set piece like a corner, the second ball is exactly what it sounds like: the opportunity to win the ball after it has initially been won from the delivery. Kane knows that they are set up to defend and win the first ball. But if one of his teammates can win the first ball then the other attackers will be free to win the second ball. You can see Kane’s awareness of this by his type of run. As the ball is played in, Kane is near the initial play for the first ball, but his eyes aren’t even looking for that. He is trusting that his teammates will win the first challenge, and he will instead get to the spot where the second ball will arrive. His eyes are looking exactly at that spot. The first contributing factor to the goal is Kane’s grasp of the defense in front of him.
Contributing factor number two is Kane’s ability to get to a scoring position. Kane uses his timing and deception to burst free with a subtle dip under one of his teammates. It’s a little move, but it allows for the scoring opportunity to even happen. Once he frees himself, Kane uses his vigor to arrive to the spot at the perfect time. He sprints at his maximum pace, and ultimately gets the reward of a goal.
The final finish is made easy because of Kane’s knowledge and fitness before he even touches the ball, but his concentration on the finish was at an elite level. Concentration has a lot to do with eye contact, and he is absorbed with the ball as he pushes it in with the inside of his root foot. He really didn’t even need that much focus on this occasion because of how free he made himself, but as we will talk about in the second goal, he is always focused when the ball is in the box. Concentration is the difference between making an easy finish look routine or turning it into a memorable miss. But Kane never misses.
England’s second goal became the most important goal because it won all three points in the match. But in a lot of ways it was like the first goal.
The second goal also came from a corner kick, but this time Tunisia adjusted their defense to make sure all of England’s runners were man marked. It still proved to be unsuccessful. Kane’s awareness of situations in the box showed again by him continuing to take advantage of the weakness in Tunisia’s defense. Second balls. Whether or not it was in the first fifteen minutes of a game or the last minutes, Kane’s awareness was a step above everyone else’s on the field that day.
In the final minutes of the game, everyone on the field was exhausted. The Tunisian players looked like they were giving their last efforts to just get through the end of the match. Unlike the others, Kane looks fresh and sharp in his movements. He showed a toughness to get free from his marker. His marker had no energy, and Kane realized that if he could use his strength and a quick side step then the defender wouldn’t be able to stay with him. It turned out he was right. His timing was perfect as the ball arrived to him as he was ready to finish.
The first finish might have been routine, but on the second goal, Kane had much more work to do. The ball came at him with a lot of speed and directly at his head. Then of course, he still had a well-positioned goalkeeper and two defenders on the goal line to beat. I mentioned on the first goal about his eye contact, and it was critical here too. His stare doesn’t leave the ball, which allows him to focus on his technical execution, but it also forces him to rely on his instincts of where the goal, the keeper and the defenders are. He has all this set in his mind already, so he can have tunnel vision--- a mental state of focus--- on the ball. Kane placed the ball perfectly in the corner away from the goalkeeper and defenders. He was close to goal, yet the finish was anything but easy.
Harry Kane used his knowledge, fitness and concentration to win England the game with his two goals. Commentators praised him for his ability to get the important goal for England. Without him, England would’ve left that game with a draw, but with him on the pitch, England’s first performance of the World Cup has been one of the bright spots of the tournament. Their brightest star Harry Kane has an ability to be in the right place, at the right time. His team will depend on him to advance in the tournament.