World Cup 2018 Golden Boot: England star Harry Kane can’t wait to play catch up with Cristiano Ronaldo

simon johnson, james olley
EPA

It is a measure of Harry Kane’s relentless desire to reach the top that rather than shying away from comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo, he embraces them.

The Tottenham striker was somewhat mischievously asked in the build-up to England’s World Cup opener whether Ronaldo had put him under pressure in the Golden Boot race by netting a hat-trick for Portugal in their first game.

“Hopefully I’ll score a hat-trick and we’ll be level,” he replied. He meant it, too. By his own standards, then, a double against Tunisia was not quite up to scratch but for Gareth Southgate and just about everybody else, Kane had delivered when it truly mattered.

The profligacy of his team-mates only underlined just how clinical — and vital — he has become. The 24-year-old had three shots and scored twice, the winner coming in stoppage-time to make this week’s build-up to Sunday’s clash with Panama much more relaxed.

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(Rex Features)

Raheem Sterling’s early miss was indicative of a man who has not scored in 21 internationals — he didn’t know the offside flag had been raised earlier in the move — Jesse Lingard and John Stones also wasted presentable opportunities and Tunisia’s physical approach to marking Kane at set-pieces — tantamount to rugby-tackling him — was a further indication of the extent to which he is viewed as a potent threat.

The focus will be on Kane in Nizhny Novgorod this weekend once again, but others must come to the fore to avoid Pep Guardiola’s “Harry Kane team” jibe, which was aimed at Tottenham last season, becoming applicable to England as well.

“We are more than just Harry Kane,” midfielder Jordan Henderson told Standard Sport. “Obviously, he is a big part of what we are about. His goalscoring record speaks for itself, but we have a lot of good attacking players who can chip in with goals and assists.

In Pictures | Tunisia vs England, World Cup | 18.06.2018

In Pictures | Tunisia vs England, World Cup | 18.06.2018

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“That is important for us. We have players who can support Harry but also contribute themselves. They are fantastic players in their own right.

“We just want to win games. Harry is a top player, he scores goals for fun and that has to be seen as a big plus for us. But it is not everything, it’s not all we have. We have other options and players who have performed when he hasn’t been in the side.

“Although, I won’t mind if he does score a load of goals at the World Cup and everyone says we’re just a one-man team because it means we’re winning. We will be happy about that. The most important thing is everyone stays together as a team and performs to the level that we know we can.”

England vs Tunisia | Through the fans eyes

Sterling fell short of his best in Volgograd after a bright start and could pay the price, with Southgate considering replacing him with Marcus Rashford in addition to the likely enforced change resulting from Dele Alli’s thigh injury.

Ruben Lotus-Cheek is favourite to fill in for Alli, although the notes held by Southgate’s assistant Steve Holland at training on Thursday indicated Sterling could be dropped into a deeper midfield role.

Either way, England need to replicate the opening 25-minute spell against Tunisia in which they carved open defensive-minded opponents almost at will with the kind of incisive combination play Southgate claims has defined so many of their training sessions.

The only negative during that period was their failure to translate that dominance to the scoreline, but Henderson believes that sharpness will soon come to the fore.

“Everyone has been looking sharp in front of goal,” he said. “We need that. Scoring goals at the highest level is the hardest part and you obviously need to do that to win games.

“You only have to look at Jamie Vardy, Marcus, Raheem and so on... they are all top players. They can do everything, score goals, create goals, link up play. They have to show that on the big stage but, hopefully, they can do that and play a big part for us.”

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(AFP/Getty Images)

Belgium ultimately outclassed Panama but not before the odd scare, chiefly when Michael Murillo took advantage of some absent-minded defending to race through on Thibaut Courtois with the score at 1-0. The Chelsea keeper saved his shot well and within 22 minutes, Roberto Martinez’s side were 3-0 up and in the comfortable position many anticipated before kick-off.

England will expect to win on Sunday and qualify with a game to spare. They begin that task from a rare position of strength, having won their opening game at a major tournament for the first time since 2006.

This is England’s chance to make sure they face the toughest team in Group G without any need to secure a result for qualification to the last-16.

Kane will inevitably lead the goalscoring charge — 4-2 down to Ronaldo as things stand — and while he would not have that responsibility any other way, what a bonus it would be if England’s supporting cast also got in on the act.