AL KHOR, Qatar — Harry Kane held his head in his hands, as if replaying the moment over and over in his head. The England captain, the most prolific goalscorer in their history, had been offered a chance to salvage their World Cup campaign, and he had failed, cruelly and spectacularly. All he wanted at that moment was to have his time again. He wouldn’t be the only one after all.
There will be plenty of recriminations in the days to come as England pick up the bones of their exit. It will be some comfort to Kane that he certainly isn’t the only center of criticism; he may not even be the main one. That honor will most likely go to Wilton Sampaio, the Brazilian referee.
Most of the time, however, there will be regrets. France might have been small favorites in this game, but the defending champions were outplayed for long stretches of the game, especially after Aurélien Tchouámeni quickly put Didier Deschamps’ side ahead with a long shot. After that, France sat back, rested on its laurels, took advantage of its luck.
This goal, at least in the English narrative, was the first injustice. Replays seemed to suggest there had been a foul on Bukayo Saka at the very start of the move that led to Tchouameni’s goal. A few minutes later, Harry Kane might have been awarded a penalty, and certainly should have been awarded a free kick. England had neither.
That wrong, at least, would be righted early in the second half, with Kane converting on the spot after Tchouameni tripped Saka. It was no less than Southgate’s side deserved; After taking the lead, France slowly lost both urgency and momentum, finding it increasingly difficult to deal with the brilliance of Saka and Phil Foden.
At that time, the wind seemed to be at England’s back. France’s vaunted front line, led by Mbappé, had been peripheral to the game; the defending champion was overwhelmed in midfield. Deschamps seemed oddly reluctant to try to regain control.
Naturally, then, France regained the lead when Giroud headed a fierce, whipping cross from Antoine Griezmann past a desperate Jordan Pickford. In just over a minute, he appeared to have lost his advantage again, with Theo Hernández pushing Mason Mount to the ground in the penalty area and Sampaio, the referee, awarding a second penalty after consulting a replay.
Kane once again came up against Tottenham Hotspur team-mate Hugo Lloris. The psychological complexity of this particular dynamic may have played a part in what happened next: Kane getting the ball over the bar, Lloris stomping through the air and France coming one step closer to becoming the first team in more than half a century to retain the World Cup.