They tried everything to distract him from the task at hand. Anything to delay the inevitable. Several players remonstrated with the referee even after it became clear that he wouldn’t change his mind. Some scuffed up the penalty spot or tried to play mind games with the taker. It didn’t work. More than three minutes after the decision had been made, Harry Kane did what he does best.
Another calm finish from 12 yards against Colombia took Kane’s World Cup total to six, two clear of his closest challengers for the Golden Boot. One of those, Cristiano Ronaldo, has already been sent home from the tournament. The other, Romelu Lukaku, faces Brazil next. Any remaining contenders have to come from further back, with at most three games left to catch him.
They might not have been the prettiest goals – encompassing three penalties, a header, a tap-in, and a deflection he knew little about – but they all count. In his first World Cup Kane has demonstrated his almost unrivalled finishing ability on the international stage and may still end up as top scorer even if he fails to find the net again.
The first, and so far only, England player to win the Golden Boot is now a familiar face on the nation’s TV screens, presenting Match of the Day and the BBC’s World Cup coverage. In the summer of 1986, however, Gary Lineker was at the start of a journey that would see him become something of a national treasure and a world-renowned goalscorer.
He travelled to Mexico with the England squad on the back of an outstanding debut season at Everton, during which he scored 30 league goals to finish as the First Division’s top scorer for the second year running. Unfortunately, his start to life as an international footballer hadn’t been quite as smooth.
Despite a goal against the Republic of Ireland on his second appearance, Lineker had scored infrequently for England. He’d bagged a brace against the USA and a hat-trick in a 5-0 thrashing of Turkey but at that stage both countries were considered minnows who should be easily swept aside. The goals therefore carried little prestige, and heading to the World Cup he was on a run of four games without scoring.
That stretched to six as England failed to break down Portugal or Morocco in their first two group games, enduring a 1-0 loss and 0-0 draw respectively. Some pundits were beginning to lose faith in Lineker’s ability, particularly considering that he was more of a poacher than an all-round centre forward who would be more likely to contribute in other ways. The pressure was on as Bobby Robson’s side prepared to face Poland.
A win was needed to progress to the knockout stages and Lineker dismissed any doubts with an emphatic performance. His hat-trick, the first an England player had scored at the World Cup since Geoff Hurst in the 1966 final, was comprised of three close-range finishes and completed after just 34 minutes. The second was the pick of the bunch as he connected well with Steve Hodge’s cross at the end of a flowing move.
England and Lineker were back in business as they went through in second place. Paraguay were their opponents in the second round and another routine 3-0 win followed. Lineker grabbed a brace, with his strike partner Peter Beardsley scoring the other. Argentina were up next.
That infamous quarter-final carried a significance that went beyond mere sport. The Falklands war was still fresh in the memories of players and supporters, while Argentina were also seeking revenge for their controversial defeat in the World Cup 20 years prior, when Antonio Rattin was given a red card for supposed dissent and England capitalised late on.
The reunion between the two sides at the Azteca Stadium will always be remembered for Diego Maradona’s extraordinary goals – the notorious ‘Hand of God’ followed by a superb solo effort in which he dribbled past four players and then the goalkeeper before slotting in. England roused themselves, with Lineker scoring his sixth goal of the tournament, but it wasn’t to be.
Lineker’s emergence was one of the stories of the 1986 World Cup and he credits that game against Poland as the turning point in his international career. Struggling for form, and with England on the brink of an early exit, he wasn’t sure how much longer Bobby Robson could persist with him. He responded with a hat-trick and the rest is history.
Winning the Golden Boot earned Lineker a move to Barcelona and helped to establish him as England’s star man for the next six years. He added four more World Cup goals on a run to the semi-finals in 1990, but none of that might have happened but for events of that first golden summer.