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speaks exclusively to FIFA.com
1986 adidas Golden Boot winner reflects on World Cup memories
He thinks Harry Kane will be vital to England’s chances at Russia 2018
Most footballers tend to evolve during their playing days. As their bodies slow down, forwards generally drop deeper, while midfielders will sometimes slot into defence.
However, Gary Lineker’s playing career followed a fairly consistent pattern. His ability to sniff out a chance in the opposition penalty area was honed, perfected and maintained to such a standard that the man who claimed the adidas Golden Boot at the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™ was still snatching poacher's goals up until his retirement almost a decade later.
Lineker’s evolution has come since hanging up his boots. He is now one of the most recognisable faces in British sports broadcasting, boasts a hefty social media presence, and the former Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Barcelona forward also helped conduct the Final Draw for the 2018 World Cup.
FIFA.com sat down with the likeable Lineker to discuss his World Cup memories, reminisce about his first goal on the global stage and assess England’s chances in Russia.
FIFA.com: You’ve said how much the World Cup has meant to you since you were a child. What did it mean to you to play in your first, at Mexico 1986?
Gary Lineker: I was immeasurably excited. It’s what every player wants to do. When I got there, it was such a difficult place to play – in Monterrey, it was 43 degrees Celsius. It was just so hot. After that we moved to the Azteca and it was amazing – that was everything we’d thought a World Cup should be.
Which of the goals from 1986 stands out in your memory, if you had to pick one, and why would that be?
If I had to pick one from ’86, I’d probably go with the first one against Poland because without the first one the others might not have ever followed. I’d gone a few games without a goal for England, my place was under threat along with everyone else in the team because we’d had a bad start.
The first goal was vital, it just changed everything. After that, the confidence comes back, a bit of relief. A few minutes later I got another and then another. I had a hat-trick and, all of a sudden, the world’s a different place. Without the first one, my life may have been very different.
Fast forward four years to Italy 1990, and you score in a World Cup semi-final against Germany. What do you remember about that game and goal?
We went into it as second-favourites because Germany had cruised through and they’d had more rest than us, a day extra between the quarter-final and the semi-final. We’d played extra time against Belgium [in the Round of 16] and we’d played extra time against Cameroon [in the quarter-final]. We were pretty exhausted but we played really well.
I vaguely remember my goal, but I’ve seen it so many times on TV since that I know what happened. Paul Parker hit a long ball up and it kind of bounced nicely for me. I just flicked it with my thigh onto my left foot which was never quite as strong as my right and then I thought, ‘Well, smash it!’ It was, for me, a long range goal!
I think it went through someone’s legs and as soon as I hit it, I thought, ‘Crikey, that’s going in’. It was just an unbelievable feeling. Sadly it didn’t prove to be as valuable as it felt like it would be at the time, but it was a magical moment.
How strongly do you remember the emotions you experienced when you saw the ball hit the net?
I don’t think I’ll ever forget those feelings. To score a good goal, and a seemingly significant goal at the time, was an amazing feeling. It’s hard to describe when you score a really important goal but it’s almost like an explosion of emotion – different kinds of emotion as well. It’s not just joy and passion, it’s often relief. Especially when you’re 1-0 down, with ten minutes to go and you’re now back in the game.
Fans know what it feels like when their team in the World Cup scores a massive goal, everyone goes crazy. But when it’s you yourself, it’s like that multiplied by 50.
Looking ahead to Russia 2018, how important is Harry Kane for England’s hopes?
Harry will be vital, there’s no question about that. He’s a terrific talent and all-round centre forward – he’ll score goals from all sorts of places. He can score from outside the box, he’s very good in the air, he gets poacher’s goals, he’s got good build-up play… he has no real weaknesses. He’s vital to England – we need him fresh and we need him fit.
How would you rate him compared to previous England strikers?
Of the big strikers that England have had over the years, and we’ve had a few good ones, I would say he’s most similar to Alan Shearer in that all-round style of football. His pace is similar, he scores similar kind of goals with his head or from outside the box. He can smash one in the top corner and has good hold-up play.