AP Photo/Rui Vieira

Southgate: ‘Hungry’ Harry Kane ‘best goalscorer in the world’

Leave a comment

There’s no better goalscorer in the world than Harry Kane, according to England boss Gareth Southgate.

[ MORE: UEFA Nations League: England reach finals; Belgium capitulate ]

Whether or not he’s bagging a goal every game, every other game or once every eight games — as was the case coming into Sunday’s pivotal UEFA Nations League finale against Croatia — Southgate backs a “hungry” Kane over any other forward in the world. It’s not just the goals that Kane scores, but his all-around game that allows him to impact the Three Lions in so many different ways — quotes from the Guardian:

“Harry is the best goalscorer in the world. You’re always loth to take a player off of his ability. I know people have questioned some of those decisions over the summer but he’s our main penalty-taker, our leader. In 98% of the games, his hold-up play and goalscoring is critical. He played a fantastic pass for Raheem Sterling after dropping off deep and turning in the first half. We have huge belief in him. He is so hungry to lead the team on.”

Never mind the fact that England don’t have another forward with a comparable set of skills which would allow them to play in a similar way, should Kane be dropped from the lineup for a meaningful game.

[ MORE: Lingard: Making it to Nations League finals is “what we want” ]

Kane only turned 25 this summer, and has already amassed 20 international goals in just 35 appearances (in four years since making his England debut). If he remains the first-choice no. 9 until he’s 30 — let alone a year or two beyond that — he’ll get dangerously close to breaking Wayne Rooney‘s record of 53 England goals and going down as the best the Three Lions have ever had. Prior to his recent goal-less skid, which would have reached a full eight games had he not grabbed the late winner on Sunday, those numbers stood at 19 goals in 27 appearances — clearly an unsustainable, but otherworldly goal-scoring pace.

Kane’s rise to prominence — and ultimately, superstardom — came so abruptly and unexpectedly that so many fans and pundits appear to be still waiting for the other shoe to drop on the impostor who could never actually be as good as everyone else thinks he is. After five full years of prolific goal-scoring for club and country, it’s probably time we start giving Kane a bit more benefit of the doubt.

Captain Kane: England completes incredible comeback over Croatia, tops group

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With a goal and an assist, England captain Harry Kane led the England National Team to a second half comeback in a 2-1 win over Croatia on Sunday morning at Wembley Stadium.

By winning, England advanced to the UEFA Nations League finals, where they’ll meet the other group winners from League A. England finished with seven points in League A Group 4. Spain had six points while Croatia, which could have topped the group, finished with four points and will be relegated to League B.

England had the lion’s share of chances in a nearly must-win game, with only a scoreless draw keeping England alive and staving off relegation. But Croatia looked put one foot in the UEFA Nations League finals when former Leicester City forward Andrej Kramarić scored in the 57th minute. Croatia’s stalwart defense frustrated England but a pair of substitutions changed the pace and tempo of the game.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL match live ]

Jesse Lingard, moments after coming on, slid home a shot that was saved off the line by Dejan Lovren, tieing the score in the 78th minute and giving England real hope of securing a victory. The game-winning-goal came eight minutes later, as Kane stabbed home a goal off a free kick from left back Ben Chillwell. Jadon Sancho, another substitute, played a role late in pushing England forward down the right flank.

After just a few minutes of action, it looked as if England wound run away as easy winners, with Kane and Raheem Sterling linking together beautifully to get behind Croatia’s defense. But both Sterling and Kane were wasteful with their chances, and by the end of the first half, Croatia’s Ivan Peresic nearly gave England a shock with a decent chance to score.

Croatia, buoyed by its defensive display in the first half, came out with more energy in the second, eventually catching England on the counter as Kramaric scored off a deflection, the ball looping over England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. As things stood, England would be relegated while Croatia would continue their incredible 2018 calendar year.

England looked to get back into the game, but the pace and tempo was missing until coach Gareth Southgate brought on Sancho and Lingard in place of Fabian Delph and Marcus Rashford, who was lively down the left but limped off the field. It was Lingard who’d get the game-tying goal in dramatic fashion, slipping a ball across the line after a shot from Kane had been saved on the goalline.

The Three Lions continued to push and finally were rewarded with Kane’s winner in the 85th minute, holding on to secure the victory.

The game showcased all that was hoped for when UEFA came up with the Nations League concept, turning boring, friendly matches into exciting, meaningful tournament games. The experience gained by England’s players could be crucial as the side looks to prove it was no one-hit wonder from the 2018 World Cup, while Croatia may have to find some quicker defenders to deal with teams such as England, with speedy young attackers.

If this is how the Nations League continues to be in the future, then the more the merrier.

Rooney, “a fan now,” derides negativity of ex-England players

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Leave a comment

Wayne Rooney is no longer a playing member of the England national team — officially and forever, now — instead, the 33-year-old superstar now sees himself as “a fan,” but realizes he still has a responsibility to foster a positive atmosphere in which the current Three Lions can thrive.

[ MORE: Report: Chelsea interested in Christian Pulisic move ]

Speaking after his ceremonial send-off this week, Rooney took the opportunity to call out a number of former England players who, he believes, “can’t come to terms with England doing well” in the years since their own England careers ended — quotes from the Guardian:

“I know there are some ex-players who I’ve spoken to who can’t come to terms with England doing well. That is wrong. I’m not like that. I’m a fan now. I want England to do well. I am proud to have played for England so many times and I always have been. I’ve had my time. I am happy with what I’ve contributed to the national team and I look forward now to the next few years and watching this team progress.”

“The team I played in had superstars, but this team has also got superstars. Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, John Stones – one of the best centre-backs in world football. England have got great players and they’ve also got young players.

“I think this is a great squad, with other players who can come in if there are injuries. I have also seen first-hand that they are getting coached right, with good ideas, and the players are responding well to that. Hopefully this team can be the one to bring a trophy home.

“Everyone can see the potential in the team is huge. They have come off the back of a hugely successful World Cup, but in a strange way I think the game against Spain will give them even more confidence than what they did in the summer. That was a massive result, to win away in Spain. To be around the squad, to see how Gareth is coaching, was great.”

It’s an opinion that’s as selfless and team-first as everything we’ve ever come to expect from Rooney, a true lead-by-example captain. While it must be difficult for so many to see their national team have more success now that they’re out of the picture, Rooney sees himself as a custodian for the program and hopes others will join him in taking on that same altruistic mindset.

Mitrovic has eventful first half for Serbia against Montenegro

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic has been locked down of late at the club level, but he’s still having an eventful time of things with the Serbian national team.

A regular starter for Serbia since mid-2014, Mitrovic was back up front as Serbia had the early UEFA Nations League kickoff against Montenegro in Beograd. Just two minutes after Adem Ljajic scored the opener to put Serbia ahead in the 30th minute, Mitrovic found the scoresheet with an incredible flick at the near post that oozed confidence.

A powerful cross from Aleksandar Kolarov down the left flank found Mitrovic front a very tight angle with his back to goal and facing Kolarov. The 24-year-old lifted his right leg and flicked the ball perfectly into the top-left corner, catching Montenegro goalkeeper Danijel Petkovic completely off guard.

It would get more interesting six minutes later as a penalty was awarded to Serbia in dubious fashion, as Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic completely whiffed a shot attempt and kicked himself in the back of the ankle, going down inside the top of the box. The referee pointed to the spot believing Matic was fouled by Aleksandar Scekic, but replay showed absolutely no contact between the pair.

Mitrovic stepped up to take the penalty, and attempted a Panenka effort. He got it horribly wrong, sending the keeper Petkovic left but chipping the ball well over the bar as the ball continued to rise. A fan caught the effort from the stands at Stadion Pajko Mitic.

By halftime, Mitrovic probably should have had a hat-tric, with the penalty miss plus a pair of good chances in first-half added time, with one shot saved by Petkovic and a header missed moments later.

Altogether, Serbia picked up the win by a 2-1 score and extended its lead atop League C Group 4 to four points, all but clinching promotion to League B. For Mitrovic, his goal was the 22nd of his international career in 45 appearances, tying him with Bernard Vukas for 12th all-time for Serbia and only 16 off the all-time lead of Stjepan Bobek.

So who is the USMNT’s Best XI right now?

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
1 Comment

There was, let’s say, consternation in USMNT circles when Tyler Adams was not included in the Starting XI against England, and more when the Yanks fell 3-0 at Wembley to England’s second-choice stars.

Interim coach Dave Sarachan, who’s done a fine job all things considered, deprived U.S. supporters of the chance to watch key pieces Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Adams together in their senior shirts.

[ MORE: Netherlands wins, Germany relegated ]

It probably wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Adams was decent in his limited action, but Wil Trapp wasn’t a nightmare in captaining the squad. But it does show that the side still has a question of who fits in their peak 11.

Let’s start with the “no one’s debating this unless they’re Bruce Arena” aspect of this: Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Adams, John Brooks, and Zack Steffen are no doubters. DeAndre Yedlin is very close to a no-doubter despite bad performances in his last two caps, and Bobby Wood makes the cut because Josh Sargent is yet to get any real first team experience at Werder Bremen and Jozy Altidore‘s just completed an injury-riddled 2018.

Zack Steffen

DeAndre Yedlin — XX — John Brooks — XX

Christian Pulisic — Weston McKennie — Tyler Adams — XX

XX — Bobby Wood

Who fills those spots?

CB2 — Geoff Cameron is still probably the best America has aside from Brooks, though Aaron Long has impressed and Matt Miazga has put in more good performances than bad for the club and country. Walker Zimmerman is on the up, too.

LB — Haha. Haha. Hahahahahaha. The endless question of American soccer purgatory. There’s hope that Antonee Robinson will continue to progress at Everton (currently on loan at Wigan) but the only other options are sincerely veteran: Eric Lichaj, Justin Morrow, and believe it or not Edgar Castillo (I am conveniently leaving out sueno, Jorge Villafana, in that he’s rarely impressed me at the international level).

Maybe we need to go to a back three.

LM — Neither Julian Green, Kenny Saief, nor Tim Weah have shown the diligence in tracking/marking to outwardly lay claim to this, and there aren’t a ton of true left midfielders who could lay claim to this. Could we cheat a little and use Kellyn Acosta here? Maybe…

ST2 — Is Josmer healthy? This is still Altidore, then, but the best beyond him are either young and unproven or also injured (Jordan Morris, Sargent, Andriya Novakovich). Weah could also be played here if he’s not used at left mid.

Have your answers? Cool, well we are taking our own advice and going for a back three. Let’s fill those blanks after this photo of Harry Winks and Tim Weah.

 (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Zack Steffen

John Brooks — Matt Miazga — Aaron Long

DeAndre Yedlin — Weston McKennie — Tyler Adams — Kellyn Acosta

Christian Pulisic — Bobby Wood — Tim Weah

Bench: Ethan Horvath, Danny Williams, Wil Trapp, Josh Sargent, Kenny Saief, Walker Zimmerman, Eric Lichaj.

Is that squad qualifying for a World Cup? Yes. Is it hanging with Mexico? Probably not, but that’s why we lean on the hope in room for growth in a young team.

Now since we’ve gotten to the meat of it, let’s then imagine the USMNT’s XI should the side not have embarrassed itself by not qualifying for the World Cup. How many names would be different?

In that instance, it would not have totally torn itself up over the past 13 months. Yes, it would’ve given the kids a chance, but names like Geoff Cameron and Jozy Altidore would not have been largely ignored by whoever’s been in charges. Wins would’ve still mattered quite a bit.

So while all these men wouldn’t have necessarily been called up this week to face England and Italy, here’s an XI of players who are likely the Yanks’ very best chance of winning a do-or-die match right now (And yes, we know Geoff Cameron is playing center mid for QPR at the moment. And don’t laugh: 30-year-old winger Fabian Johnson is contributing fairly regularly for the No. 2 team in the Bundesliga).

I’ll save you the everpresent comment of “Oh, man, (insert Jozy or Bradley here), enough with that. It’s over.” There, I said it for you. Now let’s get back to theoretical, right now, win or go home match.

Zack Steffen

DeAndre Yedlin — Geoff Cameron — John Brooks — Justin Morrow

Danny Williams — Michael Bradley

Christian Pulisic — Weston McKennie — Fabian Johnson

Jozy Altidore