England, Netherlands need their star strikers to start delivering


BERLIN — Harry Kane and Memphis Depay have scored 111 international goals between them and went into Euro 2024 shouldering the goal-scoring burden for England and Netherlands respectively. However, as the two nations prepare to battle it out on Wednesday in Dortmund for a place in the final, they have done so in spite of, rather than because of, their star strikers.

Both England and the Dutch have arrived at the semifinal stage without having played to their potential, despite boasting squads stacked with Champions League talent, and the team that wins could be the one that cracks the code of how to get their most consistent goal scorer to deliver.

Kane is England’s greatest-ever goal scorer, with 65 goals in 96 appearances, while Memphis is second only to former Arsenal and Manchester United forward Robin van Persie (50 in 102) for Netherlands, having registered 46 goals in 97 appearances. But at Euro 2024, it has been a tale of woe for both. While they have found the net — with Kane netting twice for England (against Denmark and Slovakia) and Memphis scoring vs. Austria — their individual performances have been so poor that coaches Gareth Southgate and Ronald Koeman must decide whether to back their long-term records or act upon what they seen in Germany.

The old maxim that “form is temporary and class is permanent” makes for a neat sound-bite, but when the stakes are so high, the here and now might be the most important criteria. “I thought he [Kane] did a super job for the team,” Southgate said after Kane registered just 27 touches, without scoring, in the quarterfinal penalty shootout win against Switzerland. “He is perhaps not flowing, as he is arriving in those deeper areas, but he is still playing an immense part for the group.

“He is leading the team incredibly well. He is such a positive influence around the camp. He is guiding the young players through everything the squad have had to deal with in the early stages of the tournament.”

Southgate could be accused of damning Kane with faint praise with those comments. Nowhere does he talk about Kane’s goal threat, his movement or contribution in the final third of the pitch.

Since the start of Euro 2024, Kane has managed just 23 penalty area touches in 464 minutes. His two goals both came from inside the six-yard box, but Kane’s habit of dropping deep to go in search of the ball has meant he’s spending too much time outside the areas where he’s most needed — an issue identified by former England forward, and all-time Premier League top scorer, Alan Shearer.

“When the team is under the cosh, he [Kane] is trying to come back and help out,” Shearer told “The Rest Is Football” podcast. “He did that a few times [against Switzerland] and there was one stage where he ran back 50 or 60 yards to track back. I admire him for that, but other people can do that.

“If it was me, I’d be saying to him ‘just play the width of the 18-yard box.’ He’s finding it tough. I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with him, if he is carrying an injury or what, but he is finding it tough to have a big impact on the game.”

While Shearer stopped short of calling on Southgate to drop Kane, others have been less supportive of the England captain. “I think he [Kane] will start, but if I was Ivan Toney or Ollie Watkins, I’d be upset,” former England forward Steve McManaman told ESPN. “But he [Southgate] will go for his tried-and-trusted method because he always has done.”

Meanwhile, former Arsenal and England forward Ian Wright believes that time is running out on Southgate to be bold with Kane.

“He [Kane] is not sharp, he’s not in the box and now we know Ivan Toney can go to that level and take a penalty,” Wright told The Overlap. “We need somebody who is going to be up there, linking and holding and causing problems for their defenders. At some stage, we’re going to need to make that decision about what’s going on — we can’t just wait for that Harry Kane finish. At some stage, we might run out of time in that respect.”

Memphis’ problems with Netherlands are different to Kane’s with England. Despite his lacklustre performances, Kane has scored two goals from four chances and has an Expected Goals (xG) tally of 2.0 at Euro 2024. His issue is not being in the right place often enough, while Depay has had chances but failed to take them. The 30 year old, now a free agent after his contract at Atlético Madrid expired on June 30, has had 10 chances in Germany and scored just once, markedly under-performing his xG of 1.96.

Former Netherlands striker Marco van Basten, the goal-scoring hero of the country’s Euro ’88 triumph in Germany, believes that Memphis is simply not designed to play the centre-forward role he has been given by Koeman.

“He works very hard, but he is unlucky,” Van Basten said. “You can see this is not best his best position. He is a creative footballer, but not a striker or a goal scorer. I would keep him in the team, though.”

Wim van Hanegem, another former Dutch great, has been more critical of Memphis, suggesting he needs to work harder for the team.

“Koeman already said that he needs the best version of Memphis to get far in this European Championship and he is certainly right,” he said. “He just has to chase down the defenders more fanatically, hold on to the ball and give the Dutch a point of contact in the front.”

Memphis is a divisive character, too. Unlike Kane, who wears the England captain’s armband and is regarded as an ultra-reliable team player, Memphis has spent a career with some of Europe’s top clubs, including Manchester United and Barcelona, where his attitude has been questioned by managers, teammates and supporters alike.

In the Netherlands, a debate has broken out over whether Memphis should be dropped in favour of Wout Weghorst — a far more limited player, but one with a record of scoring important goals. Weghorst has scored just once so far in this tournament, but the former Man United forward is highly regarded by his teammates.

“Because of Weghorst, you create a little bit more chaos in the box and they have to defend more, so I think Wout helped a lot,” defender Nathan Aké said after the 6-foot-6 striker was introduced as a substitute in the 2-1 quarterfinal win against Turkey. “He’s a nightmare to play against. He is strong, is a nuisance in a box and he fights for everything. He runs off everything, so for us he is a great asset.”

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Laurens: England being carried by ‘individual brilliance’

Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens preview England vs. Netherlands in the semifinals of Euro 2024.

However, the prospects of Memphis being dropped in favour of Weghorst are slim. Even after Weghorst scored a late winner in the opening group game against Poland, Koeman said that he had been blunt with the 31-year-old by telling him he was most useful coming off the bench. Despite the doubts being voiced about Memphis as the focal point for his team, Koeman believes he remains the best option.

“Memphis has a lot of value to the team,” Koeman said. “He is playing very well. This team utterly needs him and they have to give the ball to him. He has had a lot of injuries and of course he has to play better, that is clear for all of us. But I have good vibes because he is a very good player. You want to help and support the players, but Memphis does not have a lack of confidence. He is sure he can find the net.”

Confidence has never been an issue for Memphis during his career. After all, he famously turned up for a reserve game at Man United in a Rolls-Royce and wearing a cowboy hat, after being dropped by coach Louis van Gaal. He is aware of his critics at Euro 2024, but is unlikely to be fazed by them ahead of the England game.

“I don’t think it should be about numbers,” he said before the 2-1 win against Turkey. “It’s about moments. But I can handle criticism well, I’m used to it.”

One of Kane or Memphis will walk out at Berlin’s Olympiastadion on Sunday and be one game away from becoming a European champion, and the reason might just be down to them. They both have the pedigree and ability to score the goals that take their country to the Euro 2024 final, but the tournament is waiting for them to turn up.

If one of them can do that in Dortmund on Wednesday, everything that has gone before at Euro 2024 will be forgotten. For the one who misses out, it will be a tournament full of regret and what might have been.



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