England need more than Harry Kane's goals: Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Jesse Lingard must step up
VOLGOGRAD, Russia -- First things first, it is not a negative thing that England had to rely on Harry Kane to come to the rescue with his late winner against Tunisia in their World Cup opener.
You won't hear too many Portuguese fans complaining about Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a hat trick to earn the European champions a 3-3 draw against Spain in Sochi last Friday, so if Kane is to fill the Ronaldo role for England, then they should count themselves lucky to possess a player capable of delivering when it matters most.
At the highest level, success and failure can often be down to one player rising above the rest to produce the decisive moment.
Kane is not yet in Ronaldo's league -- only Lionel Messi can claim to be in the same stratosphere as the Portugal captain -- but his importance to Gareth Southgate's young England team was clear even before he scored his 91st minute header against the Tunisians (his second goal of the game) to ensure a winning start in Group G.
Gary Lineker scored 10 goals in two World Cups for England in 1986 and 1990 and his ability to change a game in an instant is why those teams enjoyed relatively successful tournaments, reaching the quarterfinals in Mexico and the semifinals in Italy four years later.
But England did not go on to win either World Cup, or even reach the final, because they were ultimately unable to produce enough goals from different areas of the pitch. And that is an issue which is beginning to rear its head for Southgate ahead of Sunday's clash with Panama in Nizhny-Novgorod.
Kane's two goals in the Volgograd Arena took his overall England tally to 15 in 25 appearances, with 10 of those coming in eight games under Southgate.
He is England's most in-form player and was handed the captaincy ahead of the World Cup because his place in the starting XI is without question, simply because he has a track record of producing the goods.
His two goals against Tunisia were his first at a major tournament after a goalless Euro 2016, but Kane's statistics for Tottenham (108 goals in 153 Premier League appearances) suggested that it wasn't going to be too long before breaking his duck on the biggest stage.
But if you scratch beneath the surface with England, you will not find much depth in the goal scoring department outside of Kane.
Danny Welbeck has the best goal tally of any player in Southgate's squad, with 16 goals in 29 appearances, but the injury-jinxed Arsenal forward has only scored twice in five appearances under the current manager and his involvement in Russia is likely to be as an impact substitute when, or if, England are chasing the game.
Welbeck was arguably the last man on the plane and the likes of Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford will get the nod before the 27-year-old.
However, neither Vardy nor Rashford have done enough to break into the starting team themselves.
Vardy, who has scored seven goals in 22 appearances, was poor in the final warm-up game against Costa Rica and he has only hit two in 11 games for Southgate. The Leicester forward is a proven impact sub, but he has appeared incompatible with Kane and, like Welbeck, it is difficult to envisage Vardy starting in Russia. Rashford is the one with the potential as Southgate's alternative option. Under-used by Jose Mourinho at Manchester United this season, the 20-year-old's pace and readiness to try something different shone brightly against Costa Rica at Elland Road, with his stunning goal reminding Southgate of his ability to be a game-changer.
That was only his third goal in 20 appearances, though, and his second in 16 games under Southgate -- most as a substitute -- so the manager was justified in resisting calls to drop Raheem Sterling in favour of Rashford against Tunisia.
Sterling is proving to be a puzzle for Southgate, though.
The Manchester City winger was sensational under Pep Guardiola for the Premier League champions last season, scoring 18 league goals and creating 11 assists, but his England output is dismal in comparison. He has scored just two goals in 39 internationals, and none since October 2015, and his performance against Tunisia was frustrating considering his undoubted improvement under Guardiola.
Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli were also below-par in Volgograd -- Lingard missed three clear chances to add to his one goal in 13 appearances -- but Sterling is the one whose performance level drops furthest when he changes his club shirt for an England jersey. Alli, with just two goals in 26 matches for England, also needs to raise his game for his country and show the form he displays regularly for Tottenham.
Both Sterling and Alli are consistent goal scorers for their club teams, but neither can yet say they have made the step up at international level. Yet with Kane increasingly shouldering the goal scoring burden, Southgate will know that others have to start weighing in with their share if the team are to go far.
With Alli, Sterling and Lingard playing in advanced roles behind Kane, the responsibility lies with them to step up to the plate. Between them, they have played 78 games for England, but have delivered a combined total of just five goals.
For attacking midfielders, it is simply not enough. England can't expect to win this World Cup unless at least one of them is able to relieve the pressure on Kane by finding their goal scoring touch in Russia.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_