Harry Kane gesture speaks volumes as England's unsung hero emerges in Serbia win

After Jude Bellingham had introduced himself to Euro 2024 with typical Jude Bellingham timing, Harry Kane made a beeline for Bukayo Saka.

It was a captain’s gesture - making sure the provider got the same sort of credit as the man who was knee-sliding towards the cameras. And it was recognition for a player whose contribution to Gareth Southgate’s overall body of work can sometimes be underestimated.

Ahead of this match, when Southgate’s attacking permutations were being discussed, the odd pundit suggested starting line-ups that did not include Saka. That was never going to happen. Away from the Arsenal attacker’s club manager and colleagues, no-one values Saka’s effectiveness more highly than the England manager does.

It is an honour that he has never shouted about from the rooftops but, in case you didn’t know, Saka has been England’s official Player of the Year for the past two seasons. And both times, that honour was well deserved.

In his 24 starts for England, Saka now has 27 goal contributions, rarely failing to make an impact.

The assist for Bellingham’s bullet header inside the quarter-hour mark was just a touch fortuitous - taking a deflection en route - but the run that got him into the position of danger was typical of his work, particularly his first half work.

And his combination with Kyle Walker is, quite possibly, England’s most potent attacking ploy. Apart from the goal, every dangerous moment created by England in the first half came down the right flank. Serbia’s left-sided defender Strahinja Pavlovic had a torrid time.

harry kane gesture speaks volumes as england's unsung hero emerges in serbia win

Jude Bellingham celebrates

In fact, England would have been further ahead at the break had Phil Foden - after Saka had yet again scooted beyond his defender - read his team-mate’s intentions better.

Foden certainly took some time to get to grips with Southgate’s tactics and getting the very best out of the Footballer of the Year is a challenge the England coach continues to grapple with. And it is a difficult one, especially as Kieran Trippier still looks slightly awkward when operating on the left. There is certainly no rapport between Trippier and Foden.

But to think there is still a lot more to come from Foden is a hugely encouraging thought for England fans. And there will need to be a lot more to come from this England squad, as a whole, if they are going to go deep into the tournament.

Trent Alexander-Arnold had, to be kind, a mixed night and there is every chance his tenure in the middle of midfield might well be a short one. John Stones was not completely footsure in the centre of England’s defence, although his partner, Marc Guehi, posted an accomplished performance.

There were as many grounds for concern as there were for encouragement. They didn’t create enough with their early dominance and did not look as physically sharp as you might expect.

Let’s put it this way, it was hardly a statement performance from England. But before he went off after 75 minutes - he has been struggling slightly with a groin problem - it was a statement from one player. It was a reminder that when it comes to highlighting the key England players, it is wrong to only pick out the likes of Bellingham, Kane and Declan Rice.

If England do go all the way in Germany, the chances are that Bukayo Saka will have played a major part.

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