Southgate backs Kane to lead and score goals

England's national soccer team head coach Gareth Southgate (right) and forward Harry Kane attend a training session in Seville, Spain, on Oct 14, 2018.
England's national soccer team head coach Gareth Southgate (right) and forward Harry Kane attend a training session in Seville, Spain, on Oct 14, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON • If England's closed-door goal-less draw with Croatia in Rijeka offered a sobering insight into what football would be like without the fans, the absence of two key players will throw up another conundrum today.

The Three Lions travel to the raucous, 60,000-capacity Estadio Benito Villamarin - home of Spanish LaLiga side Real Betis - to take on Spain in the Nations League, and the suspended Jordan Henderson will be a big miss with England needing all the midfield leaders they can get.

Another absentee will be defender John Stones, who is also serving a one-match ban.

Fabian Delph's injury and the omission of Ashley Young deprive England of more players with the experience to lead others.

More responsibility than ever will be loaded on Harry Kane's shoulders, as if jousting Spain skipper Sergio Ramos and a six-game scoring drought were not enough.

The captain must also find ways to inspire his teammates, which does not come as naturally to him as it does with Henderson.

But England boss Gareth Southgate remains unperturbed by the lack of experienced heads and has backed Kane to come good.

"We lose John and Jordan so there will be opportunities for others. We're going to be playing in front of 60,000 people and we want to be as competitive as we can," he said.

"We have to pick a team to represent the country as well as we can. Harry will get us goals."

Kane's laboured display against World Cup finalists Croatia prompted renewed conjecture about whether he is jaded, with increasing concerns over an apparent reduction in speed and mobility after his ankle injury in March.

However, the 25-year-old has shrugged off doubts over his form.

"When you set the standards I've set over the last few years and you fall a little bit below, people are going to talk," said Kane.

"I'd like to have scored more for England recently but, as a striker, you go through spells where maybe it goes off the bar, other times it comes off your heel and goes into the back of the net."

La Roja are coming off a 4-1 away thrashing of Wales on Friday and have scored 12 goals under new coach Luis Enrique to put their World Cup disappointment behind them.

They can seal qualification for the first final four of the Nations League with a victory, which would make it three wins in as many games in the tournament.

THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2018, with the headline 'Southgate backs Kane to lead and score goals'. Print Edition | Subscribe