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Monday, February 6, 2023

In England’s rout of Senegal, the country’s youngest player proves to be a spark plug

Midway through the first half at Al Bayt Stadium, England was unable to find their footing, gave off an anxious appearance, and ceded territory as well as chances to Senegal. However, at that point, the youngest member of their team made his presence felt in a significant way.

Jude Bellingham, who is just 19 years old, contributed key inputs to two first-half goals that took England on its path to a 3-0 triumph against Senegal. Playing with a freedom and confidence that appeared to have abandoned his more seasoned colleagues, Bellingham delivered these contributions. The victory set up a quarterfinal encounter against France and a meeting with Kylian Mbappé, who was the breakthrough teenage talent of the last World Cup. France also advanced to face Argentina in the quarterfinals.

Mbappé became a worldwide name as he burst onto the global scene at the World Cup in Russia at the age of 19. He was the first adolescent to score in a World Cup final since Pelé in 1958. Mbappé became the first teenager to score in a World Cup final. Bellingham, who plays in the middle of the field, is likewise capitalising on the most prominent stage that the sport has to offer.

Then, as the break for the half approached, Bellingham made a contribution that was even more amazing. Finding the ball at his feet just outside England’s penalty area, he charged upfield with his arms pumping and his strides extending, slaloming through a group of Senegalese midfielders who were desperately trying to stop him. He found the ball at his feet just outside England’s penalty area. After Bellingham had successfully gone through the defensive line, he passed the ball on to Phil Foden, who then quickly found Kane. First time ever for Kane to find the back of the net in the World Cup, a competition in which England was level with Spain for most goals scored in the group stage. Kane’s goal put England in a tie for first place with Spain.

The difference of two goals at halftime did not exactly correspond to the balance of opportunities that were created. It seemed as if Senegal was the more dangerous of the two sides, as they were able to force Jordan Pickford, the goalkeeper for England, to make one reaction save and generally cause jitters in the back line. But it was still abundantly evident that Senegal was suffering from the absence of Sadio Mané, its lone forward of world-class calibre and its captain as well as an inspiring striker.

Senegal’s forwards were unable to capitalise on the opportunities that presented themselves despite the fact that they were there. This lack of a killer instinct was punished and exposed when England did the exact opposite of what they should have done and took advantage of two of the few gaps that they were able to generate.

It was 10 minutes into the second half that England put an end to the competition with a third score that replicated the movement that was engaged in its previous goals. This demonstrated England’s ruthlessness. After a swift transition, Foden was able to get the ball, and his cross came at the ideal moment for Bukayo Saka to get a touch on it that went past Édouard Mendy in the Senegalese goal.

Because of the goal, England’s head coach, Gareth Southgate, had the luxury of substituting players before facing more difficult opponents. Foden and Saka were taken off the field together with 25 minutes left to play after they had assisted one another in scoring the third goal. Both of their tasks had been completed, and England had successfully completed what might have been a challenging assignment.

It was just the second time in England’s history that they faced an African opponent in the knockout rounds of the World Cup when they were matched up against Senegal. The most recent occasion, which was in 1990 when England played Cameroon, was a totally different affair, and it was one that England was lucky to negotiate. It required an extra-time penalty by Gary Lineker in order for England to escape with a hard-fought 3-2 win.

In the second half of Sunday’s game, which resembled an exhibition game in its latter stages, with the crowd entertaining itself by performing a wave at one point, there was no chance that the game would go into extra time or that England would have to fight particularly hard to defeat Senegal. Additionally, there was no chance that England would have to fight particularly hard to defeat Senegal.

Senegal’s travelling fans kept up a constant percussive beat to accompany the team, providing a backdrop that has become a signature of the tournament and will be missed now that Senegal has been eliminated from the competition. Despite the difficulties faced by the team’s players on the field, the Senegalese fans provided a constant accompaniment.

The win marks another accomplishment for England in its now six-decade-long quest to repeat the World Cup title it achieved for the first and only time in 1966. The calmness of its advancement will instil further confidence in the possibility that Southgate’s squad, who reached the semifinals in Russia four years ago, could be in the running for the most prestigious award in two weeks.

It’s possible that the ongoing success of England’s youngest player may determine whether or not the country can realise its full potential. In addition, Southgate did not take any risks. The assistant referee raised his board with a little less than 15 minutes remaining to play in order to indicate that it was time for Bellingham to take his departure from the game.

On Saturday, England will play France and Mbappé in the same arena, but this time they will be put through a considerably more difficult test of their championship credentials. But now that Bellingham is part of the team, anything is within reach.

Dan O'Brien
I am a journalist for The National Era with an emphasis in sports.
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