Why Harry Kane embodies how England keep choking at major tournaments

England's forward #09 Harry Kane reacts to his team's defeat in the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final football match between England and France at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, on December 10, 2022.
(Image credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images)

"You'd bet your house on Harry Kane," former England star – and luckily, not a gambling man – Lee Dixon lamented in the aftermath of the Three Lions captain's penalty-cum-conversion over Hugo Lloris's goal. In some ways, you would. He scores those all the time. 

Kane held his head in his hands. It was cruel. No one deserved to miss less. 

Because frankly, no one has given more to the England side than him – perhaps ever. His captaincy began with appreciation for this team at an all-time nadir and he's been the lead construction worker since. Few have had to be the beacon of England captain – a role of chief distraction from reality – during such turbulent times in British society. No one has had to lead England through such challenging social issues. Now, no one has scored more goals for this country than Kane, either. 

England's coach #00 Gareth Southgate and England's forward #09 Harry Kane react at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final football match between England and France at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, north of Doha, on December 10, 2022.

Gareth Southgate consoles Harry Kane at full-time (Image credit: PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

And yet, Harry Kane MBE is the very image of why, on the field at least, it hasn't quite clicked. He's scored goals by the bucketload – but that's not what wins major international tournaments.

Just ask Cristiano Ronaldo, who on the very same day, trudged off the stage in tears for the last time, knowing that being the all-time international scorer meant nothing: no World Cup knockout goals in five editions of the tournament, now. Ask Kevin De Bruyne, undoubtedly the best all-round footballer in the Premier League, who finished his World Cup 2022 with zero goals, zero assists and a quote about his national side being "too old" as being his most noteworthy moment. 

Ask the entirety of the German or Spanish national sides. The majority of players on either side are geared to the reliable swing of momentum: stepping up 50 to 60 times a season to put in 8/10 displays, keep the ball and wait for the goal. Again – that's not what wins major tournaments. 

Knockout games are decided in moments. And sometimes, the most consistent footballers on Earth can't provide them. De Bruyne can assist 20 goals a season but how many times has he provided the spark of magic in a Champions League knockout game? 

Frank Lampard is Chelsea's top scorer but Didier Drogba was the man for a final. Xabi Alonso was a metronome for Liverpool in midfield but Steven Gerrard would flick the switch when it mattered. Robert Lewandowksi has over 630 career goals but you're more likely to remember some of Miroslav Klose's. 

Thierry Henry top-scored for four Prem seasons in five at his pomp but never scored in any kind of final; meanwhile, his countryman Zinedine Zidane was criticised for his lack of consistency across whole seasons (opens in new tab) – but his career is remembered for the postcard moments of three World Cup final goals and the swing of a left peg in the Champions League showpiece.

You get the picture. It's the difference between momentum and magic. Kane has been integral to everything excellent about Tottenham in recent years – apart from when they reached the Champions League final without him. He missed a penalty in a similar situation against Denmark 18 months ago. Meanwhile, Olivier Giroud has never held a candle to the level of world-class performance that Kane does weekly but has a habit of channelling strikers much better than him in knockout clashes. 

Olivier Giroud signals 52 goals for France after becoming the nation's all-time top scorer with his strike against Poland in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Olivier Giroud is half the player Harry Kane is – but is enjoying a phenomenal tournament (Image credit: Getty Images)

Fortunately for England, they now have these 'moments players' coming through. Jude Bellingham's big-game highlights reel is already impressive. Bukayo Saka isn't producing goals and assists at an alarming rate but has scored penalties against Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United since he missed one on a much bigger stage. Phil Foden is more talismanic to Manchester City in Europe than in the Premier League.

It's not going to seem as daunting in four years to lean on these guys, as it was to ask Harry Kane for his first-ever trophy to be a World Cup. His penalty miss was unfortunate – though perhaps not as surprising as Lee Dixon imagined. Kane is still brilliant… just a different kind of brilliant. 

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Mark White
Staff Writer

Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. An encyclopedia of football shirts and boots knowledge – both past and present – Mark has also been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals for FFT and has written pieces for the mag ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career. He once saw Tyrone Mings at a petrol station in Bournemouth but felt far too short to ask for a photo.