Sky is the limit for meticulous Harry Kane in pursuit of international goals century

England captain joins select group of strikers who will go to the 2022 World Cup with 50 or more international goals

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Manuel Neuer dived to his left. Memory told him that was where Harry Kane beat him last time they duked it out, face-to-face, from the penalty spot. On that occasion, back in the autumn of 2019, Neuer had almost reached Kane’s rocket of a low spot-kick.

Kane had that past moment, part of a 7-2 thrashing of his Tottenham Hotspur by Neuer’s Bayern Munich in the Champions League, etched in his mind late on Tuesday when England were awarded their penalty, for a trip on Kane, against Neuer’s Germany in the Uefa Nations League.

The England captain keeps meticulous mental notes. He revised them and second-guessed Neuer’s instincts, firing into the opposite corner to where Neuer launched himself.

Kane keeps careful tabs on all his numbers, too, happily admitting that he measures his statistics as a goalscorer against the facts and figures boasted by the best attacking players past and present. So when, penalty converted, he sprinted towards the spectators in Munich, arms spread wide, he knew he had reached a significant landmark. It was Kane’s 50th goal for his country, three shy of Wayne Rooney's England record.

He joins a select group of modern strikers who will go to the World Cup in November with half a century – or more – of international goals to their names. Cristiano Ronaldo has 117. Lionel Messi has just taken his total from 81 to 86 in a single, one-sided friendly against Estonia. Robert Lewandowski and Neymar are in the mid-70s for goals for Poland and Brazil. Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani have 62 and 56 goals respectively for Uruguay.


What those exemplary strikers also share is that they are over 30, and if Neymar, who turns 31 in February, need not necessarily fear that his next World Cup may be his last, Ronaldo, Messi, Suarez, Cavani, and Lewandowski must regard that as a strong possibility.

Kane, meanwhile, is only 28 years old and has a rounded set of skills that should mean he remains an elite footballer once the powers of acceleration begin to fade. He can look forward to several more tournaments, and matches, playing for an England equipped with top-class accomplices.

By modern standards, Kane has reached his 50 in a very quick time. The 1-1 draw in Munich was his 71st cap. He has been a senior England player for just over seven years. Messi reached 50 goals for his country in his 11th season as an Argentina player, Ronaldo more or less the same.

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Granted, Ronaldo’s towering record for Portugal grew from 50 to well past 100 rather faster. It may be a very long while before his total, from 188 caps so far, is eclipsed.

For European national teams, there are fewer friendlies now that the Nations League has entered the calendar, and that reduces a little the number of punchbag opponents for a ruthless centre-forward to rack up goals against.

But England can still bank on the odd gift in qualifying groups. Last November, Kane moved from 41 international goals to 48 in the space of just over two hours on the pitch against Albania (he scored a hat-trick), and San Marino (he struck four times in 15 minutes in a 10-0 win).

Should Kane continue in his current vein into his mid-30s, he would begin to glimpse a century of international goals. And why not? He is a model professional in his care of his body and in his studious search for ways to improve and develop new aspects of his game.

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“Exceptional,” said the England manager Gareth Southgate of his skipper, praising the landmark goal but also drawing attention to Kane’s work outside the opposition penalty area, from where he has scored 48 of his England goals.

“Fifty goals will be the story,” said Southgate, “but the way he led the line, competed, pressed was exceptional. He gives us so many options. The moments when he takes the ball and relieves the pressure are an important part of his game. I know people say he drops too deep but you need a player that can come and link the game.

“When you have runners past him like Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka and Mason Mount, that part of his game comes into its own.”

Those sorts of lively runners also create the conditions for free-kicks and penalties. Kane the muscular poacher has profited from the finessing, under Southgate, of England’s effectiveness from set-pieces. And nobody will be seizing penalty duties – 15 of his England goals have come from the spot –from the skipper any time soon.

Updated: June 09, 2022, 7:29 AM