Kane’s Miss Will be Another Ghost to Haunt England

Portugal faced the existential angst of dropping Cristiano Ronaldo. Morocco has been backed by a gathering swell of pride from across Africa and the Middle East. The Dutch faced no little domestic opprobrium for their uncharacteristic conservatism. Even England, largely unflustered during its stay, teetered a little after enduring the apparently unbearable indignity of drawing with the United States.

France’s progress, by contrast, had been ominously serene: two straightforward wins in the group phase, a defeat against Tunisia that nobody seemed to notice — at least in part because French television cut away after what appeared to be a late equalizer, neglecting to show the audience that it was subsequently ruled out — and then a breezy victory against Poland in the round of 16.

Against England, though, that sang-froid almost proved France’s undoing. Tchouámeni’s goal seemed to lull his team into a torpor. Gradually, it stripped any urgency from its play, any impetus, as if expecting England simply to succumb. The reigning champion, France ceded first territory and then control. It sat back, rested on its laurels, rode its luck. Eventually, it was made to pay: Tchouámeni tripping Saka, Kane sending the subsequent penalty past his opposing captain and Tottenham teammate, Hugo Lloris.

At that point, the wind seemed to be at England’s backs. France’s vaunted attacking line, spearheaded by Mbappé, had been peripheral to the game; its midfield was being overwhelmed; Deschamps seemed curiously reluctant to try to wrestle back control.

That was England’s chance: not just to prove, as Southgate said, that it could “go toe to toe” with an elite team, a champion team, but to beat one; to claim a place not just in a third straight tournament semifinal, but to set up a meeting with Morocco, spirited and inspired but an indisputable underdog; to glimpse a path to the World Cup final, open and inviting, at its feet.

That it did not take it will haunt Kane, Southgate and the rest of his players for some time. France mustered no more than a few seconds of menace — Olivier Giroud denied by Jordan Pickford, the subsequent corner worked out to Antoine Griezmann, a flashing, perilous cross, Giroud offering no second chances — to seize the lead once more. England, by contrast, was not nearly as unforgiving.

There was nobody, Southgate said, who he would rather entrust with a penalty than Kane. “He’s the best,” he said. “He’s the best,” he said again, as if for emphasis. Kane could not, though, deliver again, not this time. The psychology was complex, he suggested, the pressure intense. “It was a second penalty,” Southgate said. “Against a goalkeeper who knows you well.”