ST PETERSBURG: Last October, Dejan Lovren was tormented so badly by Harry Kane that he could’ve been forgiven for feeling at that stage that his Liverpool days were numbered. Taken off just past the half-hour mark in Liverpool’s 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, the Croatian defender’s performance came under intense scrutiny.
Former Arsenal legend Thierry Henry said Lovren was ‘scared of Kane’ while former Liverpool legend Graeme Souness said the centre-back was ‘in awe of Kane’.
How things change, though.
Lovren got a chance to get back up from that debilitating performance, with the arrival of Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool in January changing the complexion of Juergen Klopp’s team. Liverpool eventually finished fourth, two points behind Spurs and went all the way to the Champions League final where they lost to Real Madrid.
Lost confidence regained, Lovren has been Croatia’s key man at the back during the World Cup.
On Wednesday, he will get a chance to face Kane again and exorcise the demons of that Wembley evening by helping Croatia past England and into the World Cup final.
Kane has scored six goals so far, and is two goals clear in the race for the Golden Boot award. Half of his goals, however, have come from the penalty spot and he failed to score against Sweden in the quarter-final.
But England have found other goal-scoring outlets. Defenders John Stones and Harry Maguire have combined to score three goals, with England’s proficiency from set-pieces has seen them score eight of their 11 goals.
Lovren will, therefore, not only have to be fixated with stopping Kane. But Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic is confident Lovren will step up to deny England — his conviction stemming from the fact that his side prevented Lionel Messi from scoring against them in a 3-0 victory over Argentina in the group stage.
“It will be very hard, Kane is the top-scorer and the best England player alongside [Raheem] Sterling,” he told a news conference on Sunday. “Dejan knows him and has been playing very well in his central-defensive pairing with Domagoj Vida so I’m not concerned about stopping the England players. We stopped Messi and Christian Eriksen [of Denmark in the last-16], and we’ll try to do the same with Kane.”
Lovren’s Croatian team-mate Mario Mandzukic has fonder memories of facing Kane and Tottenham. Last season with Juventus, he faced Spurs — also comprising England’s Dele Alli and Kieran Trippier – in the first knockout round of the Champions League. After a 2-2 draw in Turin, Juve knocked out Spurs with a 2-1 win at Wembley.
“It’s really different when it comes to playing for the club and for the national team,” the striker told a news conference on Monday. “I know all the English players and I have a high opinion of them. It’s a 50-50 match. All the teams that have reached the semis deserve to be here but we have no fear of anyone.”
At the Luzhniki Stadium on Wednesday evening, Mandzukic will hope Lovren holds no fear of Kane.