After blowing both hot and cold in the group stages, England revved into gear last night and beat Senegal 3-0 at a canter. The Three Lions had to go through a period of looking lost on the ball and then withstood some pressure from the Lions of Teranga before two precision counter-attacks led by young midfielder Jude Bellingham saw them go into the break two up, and then make it three soon after the half to end the game as a contest.
Senegal must be regarded as a special story even after their defeat to an English side brimming with young talent and experienced veterans. While they are now leaving the FIFA 2022 World Cup, they reached the round of sixteen despite being without the likes of Sadio Mane, Idrissa Gana Gueye, and Cheikhou Kouyate; coach Aliou Cisse should be immensely proud of his African Champions outfit and optimistic regarding what is still possible in the future with the pieces this side has and might still develop over the next four seasons.
This Senegal side, however, proved no match for an England side that was not hamstrung by key injuries in the same way as their competition. Their fluidity built and built all game and they would slam the door officially on Senegal’s world cup project. While English players have been lost to injury or personal reasons, the biggest names of the side have been readily available for the most part, and three names in particular - Phil Foden of Manchester City, Bellingham of Borussia Dortmund, and Bukayo Saka of Arsenal - all stood out beyond many of the others, with veterans Harry Kane, Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson also playing key parts.
The English press has wanted more Foden from Gareth Southgate from the jump, but it was noted across various networks and pundits that his form for the Three Lions was not that of City; in the last two matches though, he has shown his worth in so many ways. His vision, imagination and creativity have resulted in two lovely assists and a goal to boot. It is difficult to imagine he does not feature in the remaining matches that England is a part of, in the same way that good friends Bellingham and Saka must continue to play their parts on this team.
While Bellingham still plays in the Bundesliga, he has made it abundantly clear that he can do what he does against any side, from any league, from anywhere around the world. He seems to have wonderful chemistry with the side, and players from Jordan Henderson to Harry Kane seem sincerely thrilled that he is a part of this side and firing off passes so effortlessly a goal and an assist in four matches will keep you in the side going forward, that's for sure. He will, almost without question, not remain in Germany for very much longer. Whether that means his departure this January or the summer, someone will be paying top of the pops for a real treasure to be utilized and appreciated!
Saka, meanwhile, continues to show the same stuff he has for club and country since he began playing with the first teams consistently. Three goals in three games in pretty good, even if two were in one match. His cutting, his running, his bravery, and his good nature are apparent, and when he succeeds, you can see the happiness emanate from his teammates as they are as thrilled for his good fortune as for their own.
For England, meanwhile, as great as this match was, there is no time to tary. France is the next match, less than a week away, and the French are - deservedly - favorites to win a second, back-to-back World Cup. They dominate when they have their best players on, and Kylian Mbappe is the best player in the world without question; if the Three Lions can beat Les Bleus they will have proven that they can hang with anyone in this tournament. The confidence would be immense, but the game with not be an easy one for either side.
Everton’s Jordan Pickford will be key as well. England’s starting number one has been huge, with three clean sheets and only two goals allowed. Given the choice between Premier League starting goalkeepers in this upcoming match, I think most would choose Pickford over Lloris, but the teams around them will have lots to say in the matter as well. The Three Lions will be thrilled with moving on to the Quarterfinals but will still be very hungry for more; oh, what a World Cup it has been - for good and bad.