LONDON, March 26 – Harry Kane is expected to make his England debut in Friday’s 2016 European Championship qualifier at home to Lithuania and already finds himself cast as English football’s potential saviour.
With 29 goals for Tottenham Hotspur this season, the 21-year-old has become the Premier League’s hottest property and his England debut is being billed as the most keenly anticipated since Wayne Rooney’s 12 years ago.
A graduate of Tottenham’s academy, who was born five miles (eight kilometres) from White Hart Lane, Kane was loaned out to four different lower-league clubs before making his explosive breakthrough this season.
Amid a steady decline in the number of English players in the Premier League, Football Association chairman Greg Dyke cited Kane’s example this week as he warned about the dangers of denying promising young players opportunities.
“The question that needs to be asked is how many other Harry Kanes are there in the academies of English football who cannot get a first-team game?” asked Dyke, who is making it harder for foreign players to get work permits and has announced plans to increase the number of home-grown players in Premier League squads.
An unassuming, happy-go-lucky character, Kane has repeatedly confounded expectations this season, netting doubles against Chelsea and Arsenal, as well as a first top-flight hat-trick against Leicester City last weekend.
England colleague Michael Carrick has branded him “the real deal”, but manager Roy Hodgson has warned supporters not to expect too much, too soon.
“I do really hope people in general will have a more reasonable approach and say, ‘Let’s give this guy a chance,'” said Hodgson, whose side also face Italy in a friendly in Turin on Tuesday.
“He is going to have some good and bad games and hopefully he will have 10 or 12 years in the Premier League and England matches in front of him. Let’s not build him up to the best thing we have ever had or a flop on the basis of a month or two or a couple of games or so.’
“But I am delighted for him. If he gets his chance to play in these games, I am sure he won’t let anyone down.”
– ‘Do our best’ –
With Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge sidelined by a hip injury, Kane could be asked to lead the line alongside captain Rooney as England look to preserve their 100 percent record in Group E.
Carrick, meanwhile, is in line to take over from the injured Jack Wilshere at the base of England’s midfield diamond.
Sturridge’s club-mate Raheem Sterling should also start, although British media reports suggest he will be released from the squad after the game as he continues to nurse a toe injury.
A full house of 90,000 is expected at Wembley for what will be the first ever meeting between England and Lithuania.
Igoris Pankratjevas’s side, currently ranked 94th in the world, won their first two qualifying games, against San Marino and Estonia, but have since lost 2-0 at home to Slovenia and 4-0 away to Switzerland.
“Against these big teams, we just have to try and do our best,” left-back Vytautas Andriuskevicius told the website of European governing body UEFA.
“We don’t go onto the pitch thinking we will press them and that we will win. If you look at the squads, there’s a really big difference.
“Against England, it’s a big game. It’s a dream to play at Wembley against top players.”
Lithuania will be missing highly rated 20-year-old Aalborg striker Lukas Spalvis due to a knee ligament injury, but right-sided midfielder Fedor Cernych has returned to action following a foot problem.