England players rush to defence of under-fire captain Harry Kane

England players rush to defence of under-fire captain Harry Kane

England’s players have thrown their weight behind the under-fire Harry Kane amid concern over the captain’s below-par form at Euro 2024.

Kane has scored twice in the run to the semi-finals but has been short of his best, appearing off the pace at times and barely influencing the shootout win over Switzerland. There have been calls for Gareth Southgate to drop the country’s record goalscorer against the Netherlands but his teammates argue they are a different proposition when he starts.

Trent Alexander-Arnold said Kane’s absence would automatically give opponents a boost. He was asked whether his Liverpool teammate Virgil van Dijk would be glad to see Kane omitted on Wednesday and left no doubt that, in his mind, any such ­development would be celebrated.

“Anyone who is facing England would like to see Harry Kane not playing,” Alexander-Arnold said. “You just know he is a threat. Anything in and around the box, you need to be on red alert. He can finish it from every angle. I always say he is the best finisher I’ve seen or played with. He can drop down and build play up and his hold-up play is incredible too.”

It was an accurate reflection of the mood in Blankenhain, where England trained in blazing sunshine reminiscent of this tournament’s earlier stages, judging by Luke Shaw’s response to the subject of Kane. For Shaw it boiled down to a simple point: England need him out there in Dortmund.

“When he’s on the pitch he makes other players feel positive,” Shaw said. “I think we all feel very positive when he’s on the pitch, because he’s our leading goalscorer. At any time he can score a goal and make that difference. He’s a very important player, he’s our captain.

“He’s a world-class player … we see it day in day out in training, we know the quality he has and what he brings to the team.”

Shaw is relieved that he, too, can contribute for England after five months out with a hamstring injury. He played for 42 minutes against Switzerland as a substitute and made a difference by offering the left-sided balance they have lacked. Calling him up for this summer’s squad had felt like a gamble by Southgate; it briefly appeared to have backfired when, earlier in the tournament, he overstretched in training and suffered a setback that left him fearing an early flight home. He had originally hoped to return during the group stage but his patience was tested further.

England players go on a jog under sunny skiesView image in fullscreen

Asked whether he thought, at that point, that he would be ruled out for the remainder he replied: “I think so, purely because of what I’d been through. I worked so hard, and then for something like that to happen I was of course worried. But I had a scan and it wasn’t too bad, so it was only a minor one. So I knew there was a possibility to come back and play later in the tournament.”

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Three years ago Shaw took England to the verge of their finest hour since 1966 when he gave them an early lead in the Euro 2020 final against Italy. Nobody needs reminding how that ended and Shaw prefers not to conjure up images of the eventual shootout defeat. The pain is an added driving force when he looks ahead to a momentous final six days in Germany.

“It’s hard to have happy memories, I try not to think about it,” he said. “There’s not many good memories from that goal. The result really killed that, to be honest. It adds even more motivation to this tournament to put things right.”

England, who will travel to Dortmund on Tuesday, are free of immediate injury or suspension worries. Southgate’s main poser may lie at centre-back, where Ezri Konsa deputised admirably for the banned Marc Guéhi against Switzerland. The latter is pushing to regain his place against a lively Netherlands side that sit third in the tournament’s scoring charts with nine goals.

Source: theguardian.com