Fernando Llorente: Carlos Tévez and I deserve to go to the World Cup

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Combining for 32 goals this season, imputed strikers Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tévez have helped Juventus run away with another Italian title, with the Spaniard adding his latest in the Old Lady’s 2-0 Monday win at Udinese. Yet despite their roles on a prominent club, neither man is set to feature in Brazil, with the depth of talent in the Spanish and Argentine national teams meaning two of Serie A’s leading goal scorers could miss out on this summer’s World Cup.

It’s a situation Llorente doesn’t understand:

“How is it possible that Tevez and I won’t play at the World Cup?” Llorente told Sky Italia, as reported by Football Italia. “The Italian League is difficult and competitive and we are hoping we can go to the World Cup.”

I think I see the problem. Is Llorente is looking at his relevance at club-level and assuming it somehow makes Spain’s talent pool more shallow than when he was at Athletic? Surely that can’t be the case, but that appears to be his logic.

And it’s not entirely faulty. The thinking goes ‘perhaps I wasn’t doing enough with Athletic, but now I’m at a bigger club showing I can play with the best. What move can I prove?’

But that success doesn’t diminish the quality of Diego Costa. Or Álvaro Negredo. Or Pedro Rodríguez, or Cesc Fábregas, who Spain use as a false nine. Those were the forwards Vicente del Bosque recalled for the Italy friendly in early March. Is Llorente suggesting he has passed any of them?

Or course his is, but his potential inclusion need not be at any of their expense. In del Bosque’s mind, the choice will more likely be ‘should I sacrifice some midfield depth to include this late match option?’ At this point, he doesn’t appear inclined to do so.

I doubt anybody in Spain is surprised Llorente is doing well in Italy. He has always been respected, but he’s also been a strange fit – one that became less viable when players like Álvaro Negredo and Roberto Soldado started stepping up. Soldado’s struggles with Tottenham change the picture a little, but Llorente’s strong year at Juventus is unlikely to sway hearts or minds. He is what they thought he was.

As for Tévez, a player who at times has enjoyed huge popularity in his home country, the situation is similar. Argentina look set to start Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, and Gonzalo Higuaín. Alejandro Sabella has Ezequiel Lavezzi as a change-of-pace option. He can move Ángel Di María up from midfield. He also has José Sosa at his disposal. For a team that needs options in midfield and defense, extra strikers may not be possible.

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In his first season in Italy, Carlos Tévez has 18 goals for Juventus. He is also unlikely to be selected for Argentina this summer. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Besides (and unlike Llorente), there’s a feeling of “been there, done that” with Tévez, who hasn’t appeared for Argentina in three years. Even when he was in the team, his production fell short of his performances at club level (13 goals, 64 appearances). An ill-fit with Argentina’s other attacking options, Tévez’s inclusion would only be an acknowledgement of his club performance or popularity. On the field for Argentina, he hasn’t worked since Messi emerged, part of the reason he’s never been called up under Sabella.

That one part of the equation Llorente is overlooking. The other: Just because you’re having a good year doesn’t mean others aren’t also performing well. Your performance doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

It’s a mistake we all make. We see performances and compare it to an implicit standard in our heads, saying things like “surely he should go to the World Cup.” But the standard isn’t some abstract World Cup Guy. It’s the rest of the field.

Llorente may be performing well, but does that make him one of Spain’s four-or-five best strikers? And also a good fit for how del Bosque wants to play?

And Tévez may end up leading Italy in scoring. Does that mean he would suddenly start replicating those performances for the Albiceleste?

The best answer to Llorente’s question, how it’s possible he and Tévez won’t be going to Brazil, might be a question in return: Why, after years of irrelevance to your national team, do you suddenly see yourself as a necessary part? Why has your performance for Juventus suddenly redefined the Spanish soccer world?

Kane “buzzing” after brace secures late win in World Cup debut

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Four years ago, Harry Kane watched the 2014 World Cup, alongside Tottenham Hotspur teammates, friends and family, while on vacation in Dubai and Portugal, and during the club’s preseason tour of the United States.

[ MORE: Kane scores early and late, England top Tunisia ]

Fast-forward 48 months, and Kane made his World Cup debut on Monday, scoring both goals, including the stoppage-time winner (WATCH HERE), in England’s Group G-opening 2-1 victory over Tunisia. It’s an outcome we should have seen coming, considering he’s racked up 105 goals (in the Premier League; 135 in all club competitions; another 13 for England prior to Monday) since the start of the 2014-15 season.

Kane continues to take his superstardom — no matter how unlikely or ill-fitting it looks on him — in stride, using obvious phrases like, “It’s the World Cup,” to which you might think, “Well, yes, Harry, it sure is,” and then you realize he sees himself as nothing more than a giddy child living out a lifelong dream — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s massive. I’m so proud of the lads. It’s tough. We played so well especially in the first half and we could have scored a few more. We kept going. It’s a World Cup, you go to the last second. I’m absolutely buzzing.

“We’ve done it for a while [had good resilience] since the gaffer has been here — he’s instilled it into us. We’ve got a great bond off the pitch so it’s great to see it on the pitch. We’ll get onto the plane happy tonight.

“We could have had a couple of penalties, especially when you look at theirs. A few corners, they were trying to grab, hold and stop us running. Maybe a bit of justice to score at the back post at the end. That’s football, that’s the ref. It showed good character to get on with it.

“We are proud of each other and in a World Cup you are not sure how it is going to go, but we have a great togetherness and are always proud to see it come off in the game. We never panicked, never looked like conceding another one and got what we deserved in the end.

“We got told there would be a lot of flies and when we went out for the match it was a lot more than we thought. We all had bug spray on and it was important as some of them went in your eyes, some in your mouth, but it is about dealing with what comes your way.”

Kane will be the first to tell you that he’s been handed nothing during his career. Early on, before breaking into Tottenham’s first team, he endured four largely unsuccessful loan spells over the course of three seasons, at which point his career path appeared destined for England’s lower leagues. Through his refuse-to-lose attitude, an insatiable appetite to continue improving, and eagerly stepping up to the moment every time a new, grander stage is laid in front of him, he’s now 24 years old and set to captain his national team for the next decade.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

It’s this kind of wide-eyed, relatable approach that endears this young Three Lions side (average age: 25.6 years old) to neutral viewers and made them a popular, if unlikely, feel-good favorite ahead of the tournament in Russia. Following Monday’s performance — no matter how belabored the result itself might have been — the bandwagon will continue to fill up, and Kane is reasons no. 1, 2, 3 and 4 for that fact.

Kane scores early and late, England narrowly top Tunisia

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England’s 2018 World Cup debut began brilliantly, then appeared headed for a disappointingly familiar outcome, but was ultimately saved by Harry Kane who scored both goals in the Three Lions’ 2-1 victory over Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

England came sprinting out of the starting blocks — so quickly they nearly took flight — and taking an early lead through Harry Kane in the 11th minute (WATCH HERE). John Stones‘ header was spectacularly saved by Mouez Hassen, but Kane was in the right place at the right time and swept home the rebound for his first World Cup goal (on his World Cup debut).

The opening half-hour was all England, with the likes of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling cutting through the Tunisian midfield and defense with very little resistance and creating a half-dozen golden scoring chances. Unfortunately for Gareth Southgate‘s side, they couldn’t capitalize, and they were made to pay for it.

Kyle Walker caught Fakhreddine Ben Youssef with a raised arm as an innocuous cross came into the box, prompting referee Wilmar Roldan to blow his whistle and point to the penalty spot immediately. Ferjani Sassi stepped up and converted, just out of reach of Jordan Pickford, who perhaps got a fingertip on the ball (WATCH HERE), to make it 1-1 and negate an otherwise dominant first-half performance by England. It would be Tunisia’s only shot on goal for the game.

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England’s best chance to re-establish a lead came during a six-yard-box scramble just seconds before halftime. Alli’s header hit the crossbar and Stones badly scuffed — nearly whiffed — on the follow-up. Kane was dragged to the ground during the rest of the commotion, to no interest of Roldan.

It took far longer than anyone back home in England would have liked, but Kane grabbed the winner in the 91st minute, heading home from acres of space at the back post. Jordan Henderson got the first crack at heading the corner kick, but it was blocked and bound high into the air. Somehow, some way, Kane was unmarked and snuck his redirect just inside the post.

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Up next for England is a meeting with Panama on Sunday, a day after Tunisia take on Belgium, who thrashed the Panamanians, 3-0, on Monday.

VIDEO: Tunisia equalizes on controversial penalty kick

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England centerback Kyle Walker put his arm up to halt the forward progress of Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Unfortunately for Walker, Ben Youssef was in the box and Walker’s elbow caught Ben Youssef’s face.

Referee Wilmar Roldan quickly whistled for a penalty kick and despite the protests from a half-dozen of England players and a check from the VAR, the called stood. Ferjani Sassi’stepped up to the spot and found the lower-left corner, just barely beating Jordan Pickford to tie the game in the 35th minute.

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How will England respond?

VIDEO: Captain Kane puts England on the board early

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It may be the easiest goal-scoring opportunity Harry Kane‘s ever had in an international competition, and he finished it as easy as you’d like.

Kane side-footed home after Tunisia goalkeeper Mouez Hassen made a terrific save on John Stone’s header off a corner, but the save was directed right into a wide-open Kane who was standing ready inside the six yard box. The 11th minute goal will surely settle some of the Three Lions’ nerves as they open their World Cup bid in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news