klaxonsbc

Stuff that matters

When Harry Kane scores, he tends to jump up in celebration before performing a low fist pump. It is controlled, fuss free, the modern-day interpretation of the Alan Shearer outstretched palm in the air.

Not this time. When the England captain stooped to conquer against Germany in the Euro 2020 last-16 tie at Wembley, he took leave of his senses – as did virtually everyone else inside the stadium – making off towards the corner flag and launching into an Olympic-style long jump.

Kane landed in a seated position, sliding on his shorts before leaning back, arms outstretched, as the pile-on began. There were 86 minutes on the clock and it had been utterly draining, the tension rising exponentially to unbearable levels. But now Kane knew. The Germans did, too. It was over.

Kane would describe a feeling of “pure elation and pure joy” – a moment that would stick with him forever – and around a ground that looked more packed than it was meant to be were scenes of mayhem; the plot collectively and comprehensively lost.

The tarpaulin that was stretched across the rows closest to the pitch became an impromptu trampoline. Arms and legs were everywhere. Fans fell across seats at awkward angles, insulated from any pain by the cocktail of adrenaline, booze and whatever else.

A similar scene had played out after Raheem Sterling gave England the lead on 75 minutes. Now the home crowd and millions around the country had the definitive release. A historic victory was incoming – one to ignite the tournament for Gareth Southgate and his players; a run to the final that would end in penalty shootout heartbreak against Italy.

In so many ways and on so many levels, it was the essence of sport.

Kane had as much reason as anyone to mainline the euphoria and not only because doing well for the national team is his No 1 priority. He had dreamed of doing so as a kid in Chingford, east London, when he would watch England’s tournament matches in the beer garden of a pub called The Sirloin.

The 28-year-old has scored 48 times for his country – he is on course to overtake Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 – and, before the Germany game, he had said that his favourites were on his debut against Lithuania in 2015 and the last-gasp winner against Tunisia at the 2018 World Cup.

This goal topped the lot – because of the magnitude of the win that it helped to secure and the pre-match narrative surrounding Kane.

Since England beat Germany at Wembley in the 1966 World Cup final, they had won the grand total of eight knockout ties at major tournaments. Seven were at World Cups when the beaten opposition were Paraguay, Belgium, Cameroon, Denmark, Ecuador, Colombia and Sweden. The eighth was at Euro 96 – the penalty shootout victory over Spain. In other words, England had claimed one major scalp (that of Spain) in 55 years.

There was also the Germany factor, with England having lost on all four occasions that they had faced them in knockout football since 1966 – the World Cups of 1970, 1990 and 2010 and Euro 96, when Southgate missed the decisive penalty. The manager’s personal redemption was a prominent subplot.

Kane had been caught beneath an unforgiving spotlight, having laboured during England’s three group matches – his statistics showing no goals and one shot on target. It was difficult to ignore the impression that he lacked sharpness and the questions swirled. Was he fatigued at the end of a long season? Was his club situation affecting him? He had made it plain that he wanted to leave Tottenham who, at that point, were deep into their convoluted search for a manager.

Cut to St George’s Park a few days before the game and an interview with newspaper journalists. It was Kane’s assurance, the complete faith that he has in his ability, which took the breath. And in such pressured circumstances. “I could go 10, 15 games without scoring but, give me a chance, and I’d back myself to score it,” he said.

The chance would come before half-time, the ball breaking for Kane to the left of goal after a run from Sterling only for him to take a slightly heavy touch back inside that allowed Mats Hummels to slide in and clear. Should Kane have tried to shoot first time?

Wembley fretted, although it was nothing compared with the 81st minute when Sterling left a backpass short and Kai Havertz sent Thomas Müller clean through for the equaliser. Müller shot and everyone looked at the bottom corner of the net, waiting for it to bulge because this is how the story goes, right? And then the ball kept on going. It was a let-off of biblical proportions and how the England support would enjoy watching the clip from the beer garden in Germany when the fans there are on their feet, bellowing and cheering. And then there is just disbelief.

The thing about Kane is that, unlike many centre-forwards, he is not a confidence player. He does not dwell on the misses. He simply looks ahead to the next opportunity. It came when Luke Shaw led a four-on-four break and the substitute Jack Grealish whipped in a cross from the left.

Kane contorted his body to make the angle for the header, harnessing the pace on the ball and, when it bounced down and in, football was coming home. It did not, of course. But after the match of the year – and many before it – the possibilities felt limitless.