Gareth Southgate praised Harry Kane’s leadership at his first World Cup amid debate over the England captain’s failure to fire when it mattered most at the tournament.
Tottenham striker Kane is poised to take home the Golden Boot despite managing just one shot on target – from the penalty spot against Colombia – in the knockout rounds.
His struggles continued in the third-place play-off on Saturday, including scuffing an opportunity to equalise in the first half, as Belgium recorded a 2-0 victory.
Southgate defended Kane’s final outing in Russia and was quick to highlight his off-field influence with England, who made the semi-finals at a World Cup for the first time since 1990.
“It would be wrong to judge any player on today’s game, if their energy levels were short,” Southgate told reporters.
“I think [Kane] has captained the team exceptionally well. He’s led the culture that we’re trying to create.”
Southgate made five changes for the game in St Petersburg in a bid to provide fresh impetus after the gruelling extra-time loss to Croatia on Wednesday.
The former Middlesbrough manager admitted it was “tough” to lift his players’ spirits, although he stopped short of suggesting the fixture should be scrapped in future.
“It’s not for me to decide whether there should be a play-off. We wanted to try and get a medal and all of the staff wanted to finish on a high,” he said.
“The effort was there, the quality of play at times was there up to a point but we’ve played a better team, far ahead of us in their development, probably the best team [Belgium] have ever had. We’re not at that stage yet.”