A backheel at the Bernabéu. That is quite a baptism or it would have been if, as most of this stadium first thought, it had actually happened. The replay told a different story but it was Harry Kane the Tottenham Hotspur players ran towards as the ball settled in Keylor Navas’s net, giving them the lead just before the half-hour. The problem was that at the end of the game it was also Kane they sought out, Hugo Lloris putting an arm round his shoulder and walking him to the touchline. This was an excellent result celebrated by supporters, but it could have been even better and Kane’s face told a tale of opportunity lost.
Mauricio Pochettino has said he is forever giving Kane videos, endless clips of moments in games, things to correct, improve and learn from. He will not need to hand over footage of what happened here in the 71st minute for Kane to replay it over in his mind, when he stood alone before goal, the kind of opportunity he would have dreamed of, but saw Navas save his shot. Nor, he will be sure, will this moment sink him; it may even propel the striker to more. The manager has, after all, described him as “the best player in the world in terms of mental strength, willpower and endeavour”. That does not make it painless, though, not least as this was set up as his night. When Fernando Llorente found him with 19 minutes remaining it really could have been.
“Harry the Strong” one Spanish front-page headline here had called him. “Kane is the danger,” another warned and Raphaël Varane knew. “Everything Harry touches goes in,” Llorente had said. Sometimes even the things he does not touch go in too. Serge Aurier’s cross from the right sought him as he dashed in front of Varane, looking for a flick. The ball evaded him but not the defender chasing him and it deflected beyond the goalkeeper.
“The more I play, the more I get a sense of what defenders will do,” Kane had said, but he cannot have expected this. Nor would he have expected what happened an hour later.
“If you haven’t played at the Bernabéu, you haven’t been baptised,” Pochettino had said. After half an hour here his side led. High in the north-eastern corner, where 4,000 Spurs fans gathered, and in a small pocket low in the west stand too, celebrations began. “He’s one of our own, he’s one of our own, Harry Kane, he’s one of our own,” they chanted. Inevitably, some of the focus in the build up to this match was spent asking: how long for? And where would he go? They are the questions that inevitably attach themselves to players this good – and against Madrid especially.
Gareth Bale, absent through injury, and Luca Modric, present everywhere and as wonderful to watch as ever, were a reminder of that, and then there was Cristiano Ronaldo – the man who, like Kane, had scored 43 goals in 2017 at the start of this game. By the start of the second half it was 44, a penalty struck home to put Madrid level before the break. The surprise, by the end, was that it was not more. Ronaldo was relentless without further reward, scoring one, hitting the post, drawing an excellent save from Lloris and then forcing another stop after a surging run that took him past three men. He ended the night on 44.
Kane ended on 43, that first goal not his, the second denied him and disappointment gripped. Yet if this was a test – and it had been presented as one, against the man against whom the very best are judged – he might not have matched up but he played his part. Even when it came for him to play the part, he could not. He slipped to his knees; his manager will trust that he will soon be on his feet again. He will remind him of the good he did here.
It would be generous to suggest that Kane forced the opening goal but he had forced a sharp save from Navas, leaping to head a corner, and then escaped impressively on the right, getting away from Sergio Ramos and pulling the ball towards the near post for Llorente, who was hooked to the ground by Casemiro only for the referee to look away.
Tottenham’s lineup was a startling one, that partnership among them, but it had its moments. Llorente and Kane had played 34 minutes together before. Llorente occupied the central defenders, bringing Kane into play and using the ball with intelligence and calm. “He gave Harry freedom and fixed the centre-backs; he was fantastic,” Pochettino said. He provided the best opportunities too. His neat controlled header played in Eriksen, whose shot was pushed away at the near post. Just before, he had rolled the ball into Kane. It should have been the defining pass.
The last time Spurs were here, in 2011, Kane was at Brisbane Road. He played five minutes for Leyton Orient in a 2-0 win against Plymouth Argyle. Now here he was at the Bernabéu.
Inside the area at the north end, the goal before him, fans above him; one of their own; his moment. He opened his body and, right-footed, tried to guide it inside the far post. Navas moved fast, left hand reaching, and just as quickly the moment was gone.