Why Harry Kane's Dortmund brace could be a genuine watershed moment
Harry Kane held his hands to his face, and looked away in dismay. Week in, week out in the Premier League, he would have buried the ball into the corner of the net. This time, from the centre of the goal, virtually 12 yards out, it went straight at the goalkeeper.
That was 12 months ago. Then, Kane was making his Champions League debut as Spurs lost at home to Monaco. The group stage would end with shock elimination, and no headline moment from their dependable striker.
There there was one thing he hadn't done: score important goals against overseas opposition when it really mattered
Months beforehand it had been the same with England at the Euros. It would seem churlish to suggest that a man who has netted 77 Premier League goals in three years – twice finishing as the league’s top scorer – still had something to prove. But there was one thing he hadn't done: score important goals against overseas opposition when it really mattered.
The night he did
Fast-forward 12 months, and Kane’s headline moment arrived against Borussia Dortmund. Two goals in a crucial victory gave Tottenham a real chance of putting last season’s Champions League woes behind them, and qualifying for the last 16.
Dortmund defended far from convincingly, but this was a side that reached the quarter-finals last season. Kane tore them apart.
If the way he charged down the left and hammered home the first was highly impressive, the second was classic Kane - clinically finishing off a chance in the same way he's done so often in the Premier League. For a man who has ambitions to be known as the best striker in the world, the game could have been a watershed moment.
True, Kane missed three of Spurs’ six Champions League games through injury last season and, true, he did score at Monaco and at home to CSKA Moscow. But the Monaco goal was a penalty in a defeat that sealed their elimination, ensuring the match against CSKA Moscow was merely a battle for a Europa League spot. His goals against Dortmund were very different. For all his achievements over the past three years, this was something he'd never done before.
There was never any logical reason why Kane couldn't do it - on several occasions, he'd scored important goals against the Premier League's top clubs. But without that big Champions League goal, the tiniest seed of doubt remained - among his detractors, and maybe even in his own mind. The brace against Dortmund surely erased that.
Kane's goals against Dortmund were very different. For all his achievements over the past three years, this was something he'd never done before
“He was fantastic,” Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino said afterwards. “He’s one of the best strikers in the world, there’s no doubt about that for me. Scoring goals in the Champions League, the most important competition in the world, will give him the credit he deserves.”
On Bale's trail
That first goal against Dortmund: the dart down the left, the angled drive into the net from the corner of the box. Remind you of anything? OK, no one is claiming it was quite on the level of Gareth Bale's solo efforts against Inter in the San Siro seven years ago, but it might prove as crucial a moment in his career.
Bale's hat-trick against Inter was the moment when he went from Premier League star to true European force. No one who witnessed it will ever forget it. His performances - notably destroying Maicon at White Hart Lane in the return fixture weeks later - helped Spurs reach the Champions League quarter-finals that season. Everyone in Europe feared the Welshman.
Last season Tottenham struggled to find their feet in the competition - they appeared to lack a little belief, and they certainly lacked a talisman-like Bale.
Now they tackle this season's Champions League with a striker who's absolutely certain he's capable of transferring his domestic form to European football - against Dortmund in the reverse fixture, in two games against Real Madrid, and hopefully against other continental powers later in the competition. If he scores regularly, the rest of the team will start to gain belief too.
Tottenham aren't going to win the Champions League, but the last 16 and even a return to the quarter-finals are possible with a fit and firing Kane.
Now Spurs tackle this season's Champions League with a striker who's absolutely certain he's capable of transferring his domestic form to European football
A boost for England
The impact doesn't end there: Kane's double against Dortmund was very good news for England, too.
He already has a very encouraging 10 goals in 21 games for the Three Lions, but Euro 2016 delivered no goals. Expected to take the tournament by storm, he looked a shadow of himself and was subbed at half-time against Wales.
Granted, the corner-taking probably didn't help, but he seemed to lose confidence surprisingly quickly. Playing at the UEFA Under-21 Championship a year earlier was supposed to be ideal preparation for him, but he didn't score in that tournament either.
What England don't want is for Kane to go into the World Cup, should Gareth Southgate's men qualify, with more doubts. Such is the relative dearth of world-class talent in the current squad that England's hopes of progressing far in Russia seem to rely on Kane producing Lineker levels of tournament goals.
He'd scored Premier League goals regularly before Euro 2016, so another season of that won't necessarily change his mindset leading into the World Cup. The one thing that might is regular goals in the Champions League. Two against Dortmund was a very good start.