London: Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Inter Milan’s Mauro Icardi will stage a do-or-die duel as two of the most prolific strikers in the Uefa Champions League go head to head at Wembley on Wednesday.
Both Kane and Icardi have humble origins after surviving rejection and self-doubt to reach the top.
Now well established as leading figures for their clubs, these unlikely heroes have become two of the sport’s hottest properties.
Both have been linked with European champions Real Madrid this season and this week’s vital clash between Tottenham and Inter provides another chance to celebrate their rags-to-riches rise and marvel at their predatory instincts.
Born in Argentina, Icardi moved to Spain when he was nine and was one of the most sought-after players in Europe when Barcelona, Real Madrid, Arsenal and Liverpool fought for the teenager’s signature in 2007.
Icardi eventually chose Barcelona, but his time with the Spanish giants went surprisingly sour.
He never broke into the first team after being written off as lacking the technical quality shine at the Camp Nou.
A loan spell in Italy with Sampdoria proved the making of Icardi, who stepped up to the big time when he joined Inter in 2013.
Icardi has scored 106 league goals in 167 appearances for Inter, twice finishing as the joint highest scorer in Serie A and taking over as the club captain three years ago.
It is a success story that would strike a chord with Kane, who also had to endure rejection before proving his doubters wrong.
While some English stars are earmarked for success years in advance such is their obvious potential, Kane was written off time and again as a schoolboy, with Arsenal, Tottenham and Watford all deciding he didn’t have the right qualities to make it.
Tottenham eventually recognised the goalscoring potential Kane possessed, but even then it took loan spells at Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich and Leicester before he was finally given his chance as a regular on the Premier League stage in 2014.
A barrage of goals followed as Kane made up for lost time in stunning style.
Now 25, Kane has amassed a host of goal records, scoring more than 100 times for Tottenham and becoming only the second England player to finish as the World Cup’s top scorer.
Kane has 11 goals in all competitions this season, with his late brace against PSV Eindhoven in Tottenham’s last Champions League tie especially important as it clinched the 2-1 win that kept their last 16 hopes alive.
Those crucial goals extended Kane’s remarkable Champions League record to 12 goals in 14 appearances.
Icardi has been equally dynamic in Europe’s elite club competition.
The 25-year-old scored the late goal that gave Inter a 2-1 win over Tottenham in the opening game of the group stage.
The Argentina international also netted in Inter’s victory at PSV and bagged a priceless last-gasp equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Barcelona earlier this month.
That strike against Group B leaders Barca allowed second-placed Inter to keep a three-point lead over third-placed Tottenham in the race to qualify for the last 16.
With only two games remaining, Luciano Spalletti’s side are in pole position to make the knockout stages as they host PSV in their last game, while Tottenham have the daunting task of a trip to Barcelona.
An Inter victory at Wembley would book their last-16 berth, while Tottenham must win to send the battle to the last round of matches.
Inter have won eight of their last nine Serie A matches to climb to third in the table, with Spurs in fine form as well after defeating previously unbeaten Chelsea 3-1 in the Premier League on Saturday.
Spalletti expects Tottenham to come out all guns blazing, but he won’t make special plans for Kane.
“We rate whichever opposition we come up against. However, Inter always inspire the opposition,” Spalletti said.
“That means they have to go up a level compared to their normal performances.
“With us, we have no specific approach for one team or another. We have got to perform as Inter Milan.”