THREE strikers could hold the key to victory in this summer’s Euro 2020 extravaganza – and I think England boast the ultimate ace in their pack.
Gareth Southgate’s side will get their campaign underway against Croatia at Wembley today and if they are to have any chance of going all the way in the competition, they need their talisman to finish the tournament as top scorer.
I’ve been critical of Kane in the past as he can be a little devious when it comes to winning penalties and tumbling around the box under minimal pressure, but all strikers do that to an extent.
When a goalkeeper was stupid enough to rush at me in the box, I would let him clatter into me and take the penalty and Kane is good at buying himself decisions in key areas.
Defenders and keepers lose their cool in the heat of battle and good strikers understand how to take advantage of their naivety, with Kane a master of the ‘art’.
He will be on penalty duty for England at the Euros and I’d expect him to get a couple in the group stages, even though I’m not convinced Southgate’s (inset) side will live up to their billing a pre-tournament favourites.
For me, there are too many question marks hovering over the England team to put them down as favourites as they don’t have a settled team, they are lacking the presence of Harry Maguire at the back and they are also dealing with a whole load of pressure and expectation.
That’s why I would look at world champions France as the team to beat, with their striker Kylian Mbappe the second name on my strikers to watch this summer.
Karim Benzema is back for France after a long time in the international wilderness, but Mbappe is the player who gives them the magic sparkle and he can turn any game with a flash of genius.
He is a better all-around player than Kane, but he might not be as clinical in front of goal and France need him to have a finishing touch to match his class if he is to shine this summer.
Mbappe is constantly linked with a move to Liverpool and while I’d love to see him at Anfield, I’d say there is more chance of me starting up front for Jurgen Klopp next season.
It looks like Mbappe is a big Liverpool fan and on that basis, it would be great to see him get a move to Merseyside, but deals like that are well out of the club’s financial reach right now.
The third name on my striking hit-list is Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku, who opened up their campaign against Russia last night.
Belgium are a side that should create a lot of chances, especially if they can get Kevin De Bruyne back to full fitness and Eden Hazard up to full speed, which might be easier said than done after the two years he’s had at Real Madrid.
Yet Belgium have quality in so many areas and Lukaku should get chances to be in the mix for the golden boot this summer, if he can take enough of them.
The question mark over Lukaku has always been whether he needs four or five chances to score and you don’t get that at the highest level of international football, but he has been outstanding for Inter Milan this season and heading into what should be a great competition in confident mood.
I suggested in my Sunday World column last weekend that the spark has been lacking for me when international matches come on my TV these days and much of that is down to Ireland’s miserable decline.
When I look back to the Euro 88 finals and the quality we had in all pockets of that brilliant side, the Ireland team we see now are a very different set of players.
Stephen Kenny is doing his best with the talent he has at his disposal, but we could be seeing Jack Grealish and Declan Rice playing for England today and back in Jack Charlton’s day, there is no doubt they would have remained in the Ireland fold after coming through our junior ranks.
Yesterday marked the 33rd anniversary of our famous win against England in Stuttgart at the start of the European Championship finals and every time I see Ray Houghton’s winning goal and me running away like an excited school kid to celebrate with my mate on TV, memories of one of the greatest days of my life come flooding back.
Times have changed as Euro 88 only had eight teams in the finals, with every match seeing two top quality teams going against each other.
As if to highlight the difference with this summer’s 24-team tournament, the delights of Austria v North Macedonia will be part of the Euro 2020 menu this afternoon and it’s hard to get excited about a contest like that.
Sadly, we can’t complain about the expanded Euros as this format gives Ireland their best chance of qualifying and the way the game is now, fans have got used to watching lots of matches on TV.
I expect we will see a lot of tense, nervous battles in the opening group phase and the quality and excitement should then step up as we get into the knock-out phases and the best teams go head to head.
The global nature of the game now means we know the star men in most of the big European teams, as they are beamed into our homes every weekend in a way that was never the case during my playing days.
So while Euro 2020 is missing the Boys in Green element, let’s make the most of what will come our way over the next month.
And may the best team win... as long as it isn’t England!