A green carpet runs from Dortmund’s main train station, up the steps, through the city centre and all the way to the Westfalenstadion, where England meet the Netherlands tonight for a place in the European Championship final.

Near the start of the carpet stands the Deutsches Fussball Museum, housed in a beautiful, modern building.

There is a five-a-side court on the terrace outside and an England fans’ embassy has been established next to it to help supporters flooding into the city that styles itself as the nation’s football capital.

A Gerd Muller shirt is the centrepiece of one exhibit. There were medals and pennants and tributes to Lothar Matthaus and a whole section devoted to Franz Beckenbauer. There was even a golden replica of Paul the Octopus, the oracle from the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen which predicted results during the 2010 World Cup.

Thankfully, of Harry Kane, there was no sign. England’s captain may have cut a worryingly subdued figure in England’s quarter-final triumph over Switzerland in Dusseldorf on Saturday but he is not ready to be a museum piece just yet.

Doubts surrounding Kane’s fitness have hovered around him at major tournaments

Kane has usually re-established himself as the talismanic figure in the England sides that Gareth Southgate has now led to three semi-finals in the last six years

Kane has usually re-established himself as the talismanic figure in the England sides that Gareth Southgate has now led to three semi-finals in the last six years

Doubts surrounding Kane’s fitness have hovered around him at major tournaments before and he has usually shrugged them aside and re-established himself as the talismanic figure in the England sides that Gareth Southgate has now led to three semi-finals in the last six years.

Now the doubts are back. Kane has scored two goals in England’s five matches, a tally which, at this low-scoring tournament, still leaves him in the race to be its leading scorer. But he looked laboured and lethargic and a little lost against Switzerland. A map of every player’s average position showed him deeper than anyone bar England’s back three.

In the time that has elapsed since, a number of his team-mates have scoffed at the very notion that he could be left out of the starting line-up against the Dutch. For some, the idea of dropping him is unthinkable. For them, it would be apostasy.

Read More

EXCLUSIVE

EUROS DAILY: Should we trust England’s referee vs the Netherlands after ‘match-fixing’ conviction?

article image

It seems that Kane will indeed start against the Dutch. Southgate appears to have little appetite for the seismic decision that leaving out his trusted skipper would be and, in many ways, it is hard to blame him. Kane, certainly, talked yesterday as if it were business as usual.

‘Ultimately, I do what’s best for the team,’ Kane said. ‘I know I’ll always be judged on goals but if you had said before the tournament that I’d have a couple of goals and we’d be in the semi-finals, I’d have bitten your hand off.

‘So there’s a lot of perspective. I understand it. I understand we are in a major tournament and that everyone just wants the best for England and wants us to go through.

‘But if you really understand football and analyse football there’s different reasons for dropping deep and staying high and that’s what we work on throughout the week, to exploit the other team.’

For all the worries about his fitness, and the concern that he has not fully recovered from the back injury that caused him to miss games at the end of Bayern’s Bundesliga season, Kane has a very useful habit of stepping up on the big stage. Kane’s pedigree is such that there is always the hope he will burst back into form in the nick of time.

No Englishman has scored more goals than him at a combination of World Cups and European Championships. He needs one more against the Netherlands to equal Alan Shearer’s record for England of seven goals at European Championships.

England's captain may have cut a worryingly subdued figure in England's quarter-final triumph over Switzerland in Dusseldorf on Saturday but he is not ready to be a museum piece just yet

England’s captain may have cut a worryingly subdued figure in England’s quarter-final triumph over Switzerland in Dusseldorf on Saturday but he is not ready to be a museum piece just yet

If the real Kane steps up again at the Westfalenstadion, England will no longer be walking the pathways of artificial turf that wind through Dortmund

If the real Kane steps up again at the Westfalenstadion, England will no longer be walking the pathways of artificial turf that wind through Dortmund

What a time it would be to get it. Others — Jude Bellingham in particular — have stepped forward to shoulder the responsibility for goals here in Germany but it is still Kane we look to the most trustingly.

It is not just Kane who is misfiring. Most of the team are struggling alongside him. As he prepares to come up against the Netherlands’ colossus of a centre half, Virgil van Dijk, Southgate needs the real Harry Kane to stand up again.

Kane versus Van Dijk could be the duel that decides whether England make it to Berlin on Sunday for what would be their first major final on foreign soil. Although if Kane plays as deep as he did against the Swiss, rather than marking him, Van Dijk might have to send out a search party to look for him.

In past duels, honours are even. Kane enjoyed plenty of success playing for Tottenham against Liverpool and scored goals. Then again, in their biggest duel of all, the 2019 Champions League final, Van Dijk barely allowed Kane a kick as Liverpool beat Spurs 2-0.

‘Virgil is one of the best defenders in the world and has been for a long time now,’ Kane said. ‘He’s strong, he’s powerful, he’s quick. So it might be different areas that I have to try and exploit, and try and hurt him.

‘It might not just be me. It might be other players in the ’10’ pockets that drag him out of position. He’s a great defender but they’re a great team as well and I think that’s their biggest strength.

‘So for sure, you lean on past experiences, you lean on analysis and you try to exploit what you don’t think they are that good at and what they don’t like to do.

‘Then there will be moments in the game where I’ll probably get on top, there’ll be moments where he’ll be on top, and it’s just about trying to exploit my strengths and then seeing where I can pick up positions that are going to help the England team, and then going out there and executing that.’

It is not just Kane who is misfiring. Most of the team are struggling alongside him

It is not just Kane who is misfiring. Most of the team are struggling alongside him

As the debate raged around him, Kane cut a quietly defiant figure. He exuded the rather weary air of a man who has, over the years, grown bored of telling people that there’s nothing wrong with him, that he does not operate like a traditional centre forward and that they can still trust in him.

‘It’s something I’ve got used to throughout my career,’ Kane said. ‘I think there are always going to be times… especially if you look over the last couple of major tournaments, there’s always been question marks over my fitness or my form at some stage.

‘I think it is part and parcel of it. I always say I want to score in every game, I want to try and help the team in every game from that sense, but also my role isn’t just scoring goals. My role is a lot of work defensively, a lot of work without the ball, a lot of work in leadership.

‘So, of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I know everyone wants me to score three goals a game and I want to score three goals a game, but it’s not always the case.

‘Maybe sometimes when I don’t score, I think the fitness one is an easy criticism for people just to throw in. ‘Why? Is there a reason? Is it his fitness? Is it not?’

‘But I felt like I had good preparation going into the tournament, I feel like I’m getting better and sharper as the games go along. Ultimately, it’s just down to me performing on the pitch.

‘We have a semi-final ahead of us tomorrow and of course I’d love nothing more than to score a couple of goals and get through to the final.

‘So that’s what I’m trying to do, as always. Do my talking on the pitch and hopefully that can be tomorrow evening.’

If the real Kane steps up again at the Westfalenstadion, England will no longer be walking the pathways of artificial turf that wind through Dortmund. They will tread the red carpet that leads all the way to Berlin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *