Harry Kane looked broken, already haunted. When he stopped to speak to reporters in the small hours of Sunday morning, the crush began on the other side of the barrier, TV cameramen pushing from the back, everybody wanting to see and hear.
Kane’s lips moved and there were words, completely monotone, but it was as if he was not there, it was not him. We were looking at a hollowed-out version of the England captain. Somewhere else in Al Bayt Stadium, the real Kane looked at the apparition, too. What was going on? What had just happened?
It was just so sad because Kane did not deserve this. As England trailed France 1-0 in the World Cup quarter-final, he had led the revival, carrying the physical fight to Dayot Upamecano, going close on a couple of occasions, giving his team hope. He scored the equaliser in the second half with a penalty but, at 2-1, it all fell apart for him when he blazed a second spot‑kick high. It was the 84th minute. England could not recover and exited in the usual blaze of emotions.
The first thing to say is that had Kane scored, England would still have had a lot to do to beat the defending champions, most likely in extra time or on penalties. Nobody knows what would have happened. But in the moment, everyone thought they knew. England would have had the momentum at a crucial time. They were already playing well; now they would sweep to a statement victory and a semi-final against Morocco. Morocco! Just imagine.
Kane has been left to carry a heavy burden and it is uncharted territory for him. The 29‑year‑old has experienced setbacks in his career, beginning with the notorious release by Arsenal as an eight-year-old. There were the difficult loans at Norwich and especially Leicester, tough questions about whether he would make the grade at Tottenham.
Kane had the one-season wonder jibes in 2014-15. He has endured three cup final defeats (League Cup 2015 and 2021, Champions League 2019); injuries; the failed push to get a move to Manchester City in the summer of last year. But it is very difficult to remember him making an error on the pitch that has so obviously cost his team.
Since the 90th-minute deflected winner for Spurs at Aston Villa in November 2014 that ignited his top‑level career, there has been the sense of his stars aligning, of season‑on‑season progress, the development of his game.
In the Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark, he had an extra-time penalty to give England a 2-1 lead and he fluffed it, shooting weakly at Kasper Schmeichel. Yet the goalkeeper made an even bigger mistake. Schmeichel ought to have caught the ball. At the very least, he should have pushed it away from goal. Instead, he patted it back to Kane, who gobbled up the rebound. It seems strange to criticise a goalkeeper for saving a penalty but Schmeichel had to do more.
Kane got away with it and England won 2-1. Even when things had threatened to go wrong for him, they ended up so right. It was a different story on Saturday night – a footnote being that he missed out on a 54th England goal and the outright scoring record for his country, ahead of Wayne Rooney. He will have to wait a little longer for that.
All eyes will be on how Kane reacts. He is famously single‑minded and resilient and there is no doubt he will want to get back on the pitch as soon as possible. At least that will happen in relatively short order – the winter World Cup has this upside for him.
Spurs’ next game is at Brentford on Boxing Day, which was where Bukayo Saka played in his first competitive fixture for Arsenal after his penalty miss in the Euro 2020 final shootout defeat against Italy. Back then, the Brentford fans applauded him. Saka’s situation had an extra, appalling dimension. He had been racially abused on social media and the crowd wanted to rally round him.
Kane tweeted on Sunday that he would not hide from his penalty miss. “It hurts and it’ll take some time to get over it,” he wrote. The out‑of‑body experience has happened. The recovery starts here.