England’s seven-game winning streak does not include Italy. Lithuania, but not Italy. Slovenia, but not Italy. San Marino and Estonia, but not Italy.
So the idea that the heat has been taken out of Harry Kane’s full debut for his country by a string of victories since last summer’s World Cup does rather overlook a salient fact. That England’s seven wins, as welcome as they may be, are against the also-rans of European football.
Only Slovenia are on course to qualify automatically for the European Championship at the halfway stage — by coming a distant second to England — while Norway, Switzerland and Scotland are in third place in their respective groups, Lithuania lie fourth, Estonia fifth and San Marino where they always are. This is not Roy Hodgson’s fault. His players can only beat what is in front of them.
Tottenham striker Harry Kane is set to make his full England debut against Italy on Tuesday night
Kane celebrates after scoring on his England debut against Lithuania just 79 seconds after coming on
Kane looks on as England manager Roy Hodgson talks to members of the squad at the Juventus Stadium
Yet just as Hodgson is trying to play down the clamour around Kane, playing down the euphoria around England’s present run may be equally wise.
It is not a year since England’s poorest World Cup finals performance in recent memory and what we do know is that when a group of players that are the scourge of the Baltic nations plus an odd mountain range or two came up against Italy in Manaus last June, they did not have the wit to win.
That is where Kane comes in. Italy and England may be depleted in Turin, but certain standards remain. Italy’s defence will be of a calibre England have not experienced since the World Cup. Their ambition will be greater than that of previous opponents, too.
The Spurs striker headed in against Lithuania shortly after coming on as a substitute at Wembley
Kane celebrates his first international goal as England cruised to a 4-0 win over lowly Lithunania
This is a genuine test for Kane, in a way his cameo role against Lithuania wasn’t. He will not have played against a team of Lithuania’s standard since he was being farmed out by his club on loan to gain experience.
And that is what England require of Kane, too: an upgrade. Hodgson knows he already has the players to qualify for a major tournament — but he didn’t have ones who could muscle past Italy or Uruguay once there. The hope is Kane could change that.
Kane will come up against Italy and Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci (left) on Tuesday night
So that is what Welbeck and England were up against on Friday — defenders who might not quite be at the level of Chelsea’s best youngsters. Faced with John Terry in the Premier League, different rules apply.
What Hodgson must be hoping is that in Turin he sees a player who can take England beyond. Wayne Rooney was Europe’s top scorer on the way to South Africa in 2010, too. Having qualified, England failed to attain the necessary level when competing in the finals.
Hodgson talked of Kane on Monday as a squad player being given the chance to show what he can do — albeit with one of his most promising lines of supply severed as Sterling is back on Merseyside nursing a minor injury.
Yet he is more than just that. If Kane demonstrates that he can pose a genuine threat to high- level defenders, he has the capability to change the way England approach matches.
The Premier League’s top scorer will be up against defenders of real quality when England take on Italy
Welbeck does a good job and is often relied on by Hodgson when England face sides with superior technique
Extra is needed in France in 2016, however, if England are to be more than just present.
This is a moment when he has the opportunity to alter the potential of English football and, if successful, we shouldn’t be frightened to embrace this.
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