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England 3-0 Senegal – World Cup 2022: Three Lions cruise into quarter-finals

A dink. A flippin’ dink. England dinked their way into the World Cup quarter-finals , the sheer audacity of Bukayo Saka’s finish for the third goal momentarily banishing the fear that this team will be overwhelmed by France and Kylian Mbappe on Saturday.

That will be a gargantuan test, make no mistake of that. France could well be the best team here, certainly the best of the European contingent. Yet this was a statement result by England against the champions of Africa, improving on France’s result earlier in the day against an ordinary Polish team.

England rode a difficult first-half to lead 2-0 and then settled their nerves by adding a third after 56 minutes. That it came through Bukayo Saka, who Southgate had preferred to last week’s hero Marcus Rashford, was another victory for the manager over his critics. Predictably the team news brought the usual outpouring of vitriol over his choices, even though Saka, Harry Kane and Phil Foden would have been a very popular front trio before the tournament began.

And they delivered for Southgate – as did Jude Bellingham, turning in another superb performance in the heart of midfield. Bellingham made one and had a hand in another, Kane scored his first goal here and overtook Gary Lineker as England’s top tournament goalscorer while Saka grabbed his third in Qatar to draw level with Rashford in the hunt for the Golden Boot. Foden, meanwhile, became England’s first players to get two assists in a World Cup knock-out game since David Beckham against Denmark in 2002.

It was his cross through the legs of Kalidou Koulibaly that set up England’s third having been played in by Kane. Saka saw Edouard Mendy coming in Senegal’s goal and simply dinked the ball over his body. Smart, clinical, it was a goal that summed up England after some early scares. And while France have had three goalscorers going into the quarter-finals, England can boast eight. They may just be a little worried about us, too, you know.

The thousand yard stares on the painted faces of the Senegalese fans told their own story. Harry Kane, with the last kick of the first-half, had made it two. Yet it could have been 2-0 to Senegal before England had got out of the blocks. How had they let this happen.

England are clinical. That’s how. It is another of the more impressive traits of Gareth Southgate’s tenure. He’s best with a goalscorer like Kane, sure. Yet he’s also built a team that takes its chances, that stays cool in front of goal. Senegal did not. That was why they were behind. The loss of Sadio Mane was huge, too, never forget. Had he been playing would England have held? Boulaye Dia is a good striker, but not in Mane’s class. And while Ismaila Sarr has plenty of admirers in the Premier League, none have been prepared to pay the money to prise him out of Watford, yet.

So England outmatched their opponents, who were also missing key midfield players. Not that is showed in the first 30 minutes. Senegal were the better team. They had the first chance of the game, after four minutes, and the best chances of the game in minutes 22 and 32. It could have been a catastrophic start for England. Instead, England held on, held tight and scored twice with brilliant counter-attacking moves, superbly taken by two of the team’s most experienced players, Jordan Henderson and Kane. Vice-captain and captain. That is why Southgate sticks with the tried and tested. The clamour for the young player, the form player, ignores the fact that tournament football is about building a winning team. And that needs old heads and cool heads, as well as the fearlessness of youth.

So, in the 39th minute, it was Kane who was smart enough to see the perfect pass through to Jude Bellingham that would expose Senegal’s back line, and play it. Bellingham surged on with the same confidence he displayed in the opening group game with Iran, and cut back a lovely pass to the midfielder arriving late in the Senegal penalty area.

It was a run that Frank Lampard would have been proud of, and this is praise indeed for Henderson whose role for England has been rather more earthbound. In 73 England appearances, he has only scored twice, most recently in a World Cup qualifier against Albania in 2021. Yet he took this as if nothing could be routine, as good as passing it past Edouard Mendy into the net. To be fair, Bellingham could hardly have made it easier, his pass laying it on a plate, a fact Henderson appeared to acknowledge, pointing to his young team-mate and gesturing to the crowd to recognise him. Bellingham is England’s youngest World Cup goal creator since 1966, Henderson the oldest World Cup goalscorer since Tom Finney. That’s a blend, that’s a team.

Just six minutes later, in first-half injury time, England made it two. This time Bellingham began the move, marauding again and finding Phil Foden whose unselfish square pass left Kane one on one with Mendy. There was only one winner there, Kane lacing the ball past the Chelsea man for his first goal of the tournament. It was a long way back for Senegal from there.

How different it could have been, though, had the African champions finished like England. The game was a mere four minutes old when Dia got through and inside John Stones and had the ball taken off his toes by Harry Maguire. Dia got in front of Stones again after 22 minutes, finding Sarr who shot over from close range – a fine chance, wasted. Then loose play from Bukayo Saka put Sarr in on the left and he threaded the ball through to Dia, who forced a fabulous save from Jordan Picktord. Strong hands. The Senegalese percussionists kept going, even as the game slipped away, but banging the drum for Southgate and England will be easier after this. France look as good as any opponent here, but any team that takes its chances always has a puncher’s chance.

Follow Sportsmail’s live blog for the World Cup last-16 clash between England and Senegal. 

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