Golden boot hopefuls Kane, Lukaku fail when it mattered at World Cup
Harry Kane began this World Cup, 24 hours before England's opening game against Tunisia in Volgograd, by claiming he wanted to leave Russia with a "big gold trophy."
Barring a World Cup final hat trick by Antoine Griezmann or Kylian Mbappe, or a similar display of finishing by Belgium's Romelu Lukaku in Saturday's third place playoff against England, Kane will likely get his wish and lay his hands on the Golden Boot as Russia 2018's top scorer.
Of course, the England captain was speaking about the glory of lifting the World Cup, and as unlikely as it seemed back in Volgograd, he will fly back from Saint Petersburg on Sunday morning pondering just how close he came to doing that with Gareth Southgate's team.
Had he scored his first half chance against Croatia in the semifinal, when he hit the post from two yards with England leading 1-0, Kane could now have been just 90 minutes away from emulating Bobby Moore by hoisting the World Cup aloft as England captain.
But it is now all ifs, buts and maybes -- shoulda, woulda, coulda -- and the only thing at stake in the third-place game against Belgium is the personal honour of winning the Golden Boot.
If it turns out to be a shootout between Kane and Lukaku, then at least the game will have some kind of edge to it. As it stands, it is nothing more than an inconvenience that has forced players from both countries to delay their much-needed holidays.
With the Premier League kicking off on Aug. 11, the majority of the players involved on Saturday -- on both sides -- will be cursing the three days lost in Russia as denying them crucial rest and recovery time before their clubs begin to expect them back on the pitch for the people who pay their wages.
But for Kane and Lukaku, this game will matter. Both are likely to be in contention for the Premier League Golden Boot next season, so imagine the ego boost that would come with beating the other to the honour of topping the World Cup scoring charts.
Yet a closer look at their performances in Russia suggests that neither Kane nor Lukaku will be regarded as having dominated the World Cup stage this summer.
Kane has scored just once since the group stage -- a penalty against Colombia -- while Lukaku, who has four goals, has only hit the back of the net against Panama and Tunisia in this tournament.
Five of Kane's six goals came against the same lowly opponents, so between them, Kane and Lukaku have scored 10 goals and nine came against the two teams who failed to even threaten qualification from Group G.
Other World Cup Golden Boot winners include James Rodriguez, Thomas Muller, David Villa, Miroslav Klose and Brazil's Ronaldo -- players who generally scored decisive goals in big games at the business end of the competition.
Neither Kane or Lukaku can claim the same. Kane's penalty against Colombia was a crucial moment, but the world class goalscorers tend to score killer goals from open play, and England were crying out for that from Kane against Croatia.
Similarly, had Lukaku turned up at the party against France in Belgium's semifinal, Roberto Martinez's team may well be preparing to face Croatia in the final in Moscow, rather than the non-event of the third place playoff.
So are Kane and Lukaku truly on the same level as the world class strikers that have gone before them as Golden Boot winners?
The World Cup has not suggested they are yet in the same class as Muller, Villa, Klose or Ronaldo. For that, Kane and Lukaku had to deliver when the chips were down in their semifinal games.
Both are still young enough -- Kane is 24 and Lukaku 25 -- to take the next step and become truly elite. A prolific season in the Champions League is a way to show they are world-class goalscorers.
But if either Kane or Lukaku win the Golden Boot, they will head home with regret at the chances they missed, rather than satisfaction with the goals that delivered such a prestigious individual honour.
The Golden Boot is fool's gold compared to the real thing of the World Cup, and neither of them were able to make the difference for their countries when it truly mattered.