Youngsters closing the gap to Messi, Ronaldo, says Southgate
SAMARA, Russia (AP) — England coach Gareth Southgate sees a generation of young players finally starting to challenge the duopoly of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in world soccer.
Much to his delight, one of them is in his team.
Ahead of England's World Cup semifinal match against Sweden on Saturday, Southgate said Harry Kane has reached new heights by scoring six goals to lead the scoring standings in Russia and is one of the younger players "announcing themselves" at the tournament.
"The world always changes and teams go through evolutions," Southgate said, addressing whether the gap to Messi and Ronaldo — each a five-time world player of the year — is closing. "The teams that have been dominant for a long time, maybe their team has an era of players that is very strong but it's very unusual for a team to be constantly at the top.
"So, then younger players come through and new teams emerge, and I think we are seeing a bit of that in this tournament."
Since 1974, only one player — Brazil striker Ronaldo — has scored more goals at a single World Cup than Kane has so far in Russia. Ronaldo scored eight goals in Brazil's run to the world title in 2002.
Kane has already proved himself in the Premier League with Tottenham, finishing the season as top scorer in 2016 and '17 and running Liverpool's Mohamed Salah all the way last season.
"That's what is so fantastic for Harry, to score goals on the world stage is another level and another level of achievement," Southgate said. "We are delighted for him that he is individually doing well and, of course, that's helping us enormously as a team."
Kane was sitting beside Southgate at the pre-match news conference in Samara and he struck a different tone to his coach.
To him, Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi remain the benchmark, even though their teams — Portugal and Argentina, respectively — have been eliminated from the World Cup.
"The thing about Ronaldo and Messi, you can never write them off," Kane said. "They have not had the tournament that they have set out to have, but they are still two of the best players in the world.
"To us, to me, to I'm sure the other players coming through, they are still an inspiration. They set a bar we have to try and reach. I'm very pleased with how it's gone so far, but I want to keep pushing, getting better. And that's down to what they have achieved in their career."
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80