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Sports

Can captain Kane spur England on?

media Tunisia's fans cheer at a Fan Fest zone in Volgograd, Russia on 17 June 2018. Reuters/Gleb Garanich

Quarter-final in 2006, last 16 in 2010 and eliminated after the group stages in 2014. Viewed through the prism of that recent history, England are altogether lucky to be even at the World Cup in Russia.

Unlike previous campaigns, the team has arrived at the ultimate national team tournament with little expectations. For many, including skipper Harry Kane, it is their first World Cup.

Four years ago, the Tottenham Hotspur striker watched the debacle in Brazil while on holiday. Now, at 24, Kane is preparing to skipper England in their first match in Group G against Tunisia in Volgograd.

Reflecting on his journey from the periphery to the epicentre, he said: “I played the last six or seven games of the Premier League season under Tim Sherwood but then Mauriccio Pochettino arrived in the summer of 2014 and got me into a better shape.

“Obviously the last two seasons have been amazing. I’ve been improving and feeling better and I’m excited to be here on the bigger stage and I can’t wait to get out there and show the world what I’ve got.”

And Harry Edward Kane has got quite a bit.

Since making his Premier League debut in March 2014, he has clocked up more than 100 top flight goals for the north Londoners and 13 goals in 24 appearances for England. His fans range from Premier League managers to Zinedine Zidane who led Real Madrid to the Uefa Champions League.

"He's good at everything and he's always thinking about the goal in everything he does," said the Frenchman of Kane before Madrid played Tottenham in the group stages of the competition in October 2017. "He is a complete player. He did not seem to be one at first but in the end, he is.”

Kane will have his Spurs teammate Dele Alli behind him and the mercurial talents of Raheem Sterling as England coach Gareth Southgate tries to impose a comprehensible template on his teams.

“I like the movement and the way we are using the ball,” Southgate said on the eve of the clash with the north Africans. “The players have embraced that. I think they like playing possession football. They have a hunger to press and win the ball back and they want to play brave football. They want to be a bold, attacking team and that’s the way I feel we should play.”

Southgate, who famously missed a crucial spot kick for England in the Euro 1996 semi-final against Germany, took over the England post in September 2016 when Sam Allardyce resigned following what was deemed by the English football authorities as inappropriate behavior for an England manager.

Since his installation, Southgate has insisted that England players have to discard the old values of yeoman huff and puff.

“I took the job as under-21 coach because I believed that young English players could show something different. There’s a poor perception of them across the world and there is a poor perception of English football and I think it is possible to change that.”

Tellingly, in the prelude to the match, Southgate exhorted his players and the pundits to observe how Spain and Portugal battled during their 3-3 draw in Group B on 15 June.

“Whatever stage of the game, they stuck to what they do well and England players have got to have the strength of character to do that,” he said.

“When you are in tense moments of a game, it is important that everybody knows their individual roles and the most important thing is that you have an understanding of sticking to your principles.”

The bulk of England’s finest are drawn from the top six clubs in the country. Tunisia’s main men have rallied to the cause from clubs in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, England, Scotland, Turkey, France and the Tunisian powerhouses of Espérance, CS Sfaxien and Etoile du Sahel.

Midfielder Ferjani Sassi told the Fifa website: “It’s going to be a tough game. We really have to work hard. If we’re 100 per cent, we can achieve something big, as we proved in our warm-up matches.

“When we take on England, we’ll be looking to cut out the mistakes we’ve made in the past and put in a great performance.”

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