England, led by Harry Kane, have exceeded pre-tournament expectations and qualified for the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1990. They were comfortable against Sweden and looked to be the more accomplished team over 90 minutes. Their victory has set up a semi-final tie against Croatia, which should be looked at as a winnable game for the Three Lions and has excited supporters back home.
Harry Kane has been the star man for England this summer and the Tottenham striker currently leads the race for the golden boot with six goals. However, his performance against Sweden should concern England supporters. He only attempted one shot during the game and didn’t seem to be getting into goal-scoring positions as much as he does for his club team.
In addition to his lack of shots, he had only two touches inside the box and wasn’t one of the primary threats in the final third for England. Kane may be the tournament’s top scorer, but he hasn’t been able to cause problems for opposition teams in open play. His six goals have all come from set pieces apart from one which was a deflection.
The Three Lions have established a playing style that works and it has seen them reach the semi-finals. This summer has already delivered more than anyone could have expected, but they now have the opportunity of a lifetime to win the World Cup. If they are to achieve that, they will need to improve their productivity in open play as they can’t be this reliant on set pieces.
For this to be achieved, Southgate needs to tweak his system in order to get Kane on the ball in more dangerous positions. He only attempted 19 passes during the match and considering he is regarded as our major goal threat, he needs to be given the ball more often.
Although he wasn’t threatening the goal, Kane had an important role to play against Sweden, as his movement and physicality caused problems for Sweden. He won three aerial duels and was often the England player that was being watched most closely by the opposition defence. This created space for the likes of Raheem Sterling, Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli to exploit.
Unlike a lot of strikers, Kane is unselfish and isn’t afraid to go into battle for his team, even if it reduces his opportunity to score. There were a lot doubting the Tottenham striker when he was given the captaincy, but he has taken on the responsibility and performed excellently in his role. Despite being 24, he has shown maturity and proven that he is more than just a good goal-scorer.
The game against Croatia will be tough, as there is little to split the two teams. However, England have shown great belief this summer and they will go into the game with a real chance of reaching the World Cup final. It would take a brave man to bet against the current squad. That said, they do need to show improvement in open play and give Kane the service that he needs. If they manage to do that, England will be very difficult to stop.