England manager Gareth Southgate was impressed by captain Harry Kane’s response to seeing his Golden Boot tilt put on hold, praising the sharpshooter’s collective focus ahead of the World Cup knockout phase.
A place in the last-16 was already assured so the three lions boss used Thursday’s Group G clash against Belgium as a chance to give squad players a run out and rest star men.
Kane was reduced to a watching brief in the 1-0 loss despite scoring five goals across the matches against Tunisia and Panama.
“I felt the need to sit with him, but he was brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” Southgate said of the striker. “He totally understood 100 per cent team first.He said ‘look, I know everyone says I want the Golden Boot – of course it’s something I want to do – but the main thing is getting the team through the first knockout’.
He added: “He was excellent on that, showed real leadership and understanding of the big picture.”
However Kane will lead the side for what Southgate called England’s “biggest match in a decade” with the England boss sure to come under pressure for his eight changes against Belgium as well as his reluctance to bring on his skipper and chase the draw that would have seen them top Group G and face Japan.
In his press conference Southgate was asked if he had put himself under pressure by making so many alterations in Kaliningrad, Southgate said: “Well, maybe I have, maybe I haven’t. That is the least of my concerns.The most important thing for me is the players are in the best physical condition for the game.
He added: “I don’t think mentally we lose anything because they know we’ve made changes and they know Belgium weren’t their full team as well.So, we’re in to big matches where margins will be fine and judgement on me will be extremely harsh. That’s why we’re here.
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