Harry Kane only has to think back to the past two tournaments to ease any doubts about not scoring so far at the World Cup, as England prepare to face Senegal in the last 16.
The captain did collect the Golden Boot as the top scorer on the last world stage in Russia with six goals, but they all came in his first three games. There was only frustration in front of goal in the next three, as England finished fourth.
The script was flipped at Euro 2020: No goals in the group stage, then four in the run to the final.
So the Tottenham striker enters the game against African champions Senegal at Al-Bayt Stadium later today encouraged by the displays at the Euros, on reflection, more than those at Russia 2018.
He said: “I started the tournament [Russia 2018] with loads of goals, used a lot of energy and as the tournament went on, I felt like my performances dipped in the latter stages.
“I was conscious before the Euros of trying to make it the other way. Of course, I still wanted to start well, but I was trying to make sure that physically, and mentally, I was in the best place for the knockout stages.”
Now the 29-year-old does feel clear of any ankle problems – after a worry early on in Qatar – and in good shape.
He said: “I feel as match-fit as I’m ever going to feel. Only time will tell. Hopefully I can do well and come into the best form in these knockout games.
“Form-wise I feel like I have been playing well, goals are what I’m going to be judged on most but as always I’m a calm individual and always try to focus on the team and do my best for the team.”
His teammates assumed the scoring burden in the group stage, netting nine goals – the most by an England team by this stage.
Senegal are a ‘very dangerous’ team – and know they could win
Senegal are not a side to be underestimated.
The West African nation are the current African Cup of Nations champions, and many of the side play for major European clubs, including 11 in England.
Star player, former Liverpool and now Bayern Munich forward Sadio Mane, didn’t make the World Cup because of a knee injury, but the Lions of Teranga still scored goals and encouragingly, for them, from positions all over the pitch.
Gareth Southgate has described them as “a very dangerous team”.
This is only their second World Cup, the previous two in 2002 and 2018, and they have reached the quarter-finals once before in Japan, eventually losing to Turkey.
Watch out for Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and club teammate Kalidou Koulibaly, who captains his country.
And in the absence of the injured Mane, there has been a greater expectation placed on the Watford forward, Ismaila Sarr.
His only goal so far has come via a coolly taken penalty, having won the spot-kick himself, and he has the pace and movement to trouble any opposition.
England will go into the match favourites, but Senegal feel the pressure is off them, and know they have the ability to win the match.
Without doubt, Senegal will be the toughest team England have faced in the tournament so far.
Kane said: “I would love to be sitting here with two or three goals now, for sure, but I think the group stage has gone well.”
He only needs two goals to match Wayne Rooney‘s record 53 goals for England. The priority is, of course, leading The Three Lions into another final – and landing their first trophy since 1966.
England will be favourites going into the match, but manager Gareth Southgate will not be taking Senegal lightly.
“We have been very impressed with Senegal,” he said.
“We know they are African champions and are very proud and have great spirit and belief in their team. They have some excellent individual players who can cause problems, but a good structure as well.
“(Aliou) Cisse has done a fantastic job. They were very unlucky not to qualify from the group in Russia and they have deservedly done it this time. We know the size of the job ahead of us.”
Southgate believes England are “mentally and physically” ready for another penalty shootout if the showdown with Senegal goes down to the wire.
The national team’s spot-kick issues are well documented, with all three World Cup shootouts ending in defeat before beating Colombia in the last 16 four years ago in Russia.
England followed that by winning bronze on spot-kicks at the Nations League finals against Switzerland in 2019, only for penalties to prove their undoing in last year’s European Championship final.
“We’re aiming to win the game and to avoid extra time if you can, and to avoid penalties if you can, because you’d like to get a victory in 90 minutes,” Southgate said.
“But if we need to go 120 minutes, if we need to go beyond that, then we’ve got to be ready for that mentally and physically. And I believe we are.”