England gets a jolt from its youngest player in a rout of Senegal
By Tariq Panja
England was floundering, looking nervous and giving up territory and opportunities to Senegal midway through the first half in Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar. But then the youngest member of its squad made his presence count.
Playing with a freedom and confidence that seemed to have deserted his more experienced teammates, Jude Bellingham, 19, produced crucial contributions to two first-half goals that sent England on its way to a 3-0 victory over Senegal on Sunday. The win set up a quarterfinal match with France and a meeting with Kylian Mbappé, who was the breakout teenage star of the last World Cup.
Mbappé became a household name when at 19 he exploded onto the global stage at the World Cup in Russia, becoming the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since Pelé in 1958. Bellingham, a midfielder, is using the sport’s biggest platform to make his mark.
“Jude is a fantastic player — he does everything well,” England’s captain, Harry Kane, said of Bellingham’s performance, during a postgame news conference. “I like Jude a lot, a good person, mature for his age and great leadership skills. All I would say is keep working and keep learning.”
England had been at risk of falling behind Senegal, the African champion, when Bellingham made the first of what have now become his customary surges up the field. Seeing an opportunity to transition after Senegal lost the ball, Bellingham sprinted into space down the left side, received the ball from Kane, and showed calmness to find Jordan Henderson in the center of the area. Henderson, the Liverpool captain and a most unlikely goal scorer here — having scored only twice before in a 12-year career with England’s national team — finished easily before asking the crowd to acclaim the contribution of Bellingham by pointing to the young midfielder as he wheeled away in celebration.
Then, with halftime looming, Bellingham made an even more impressive contribution. Finding the ball at his feet just outside England’s penalty area, he burst upfield, arms pumping, strides lengthening, slaloming past desperate efforts to halt him by a clutch of Senegal midfielders. Having broken the defensive line, Bellingham played the ball in to Phil Foden, who immediately found Kane. Kane finally found the back of the net for the first time in this World Cup, a tournament in which England was tied with Spain as the top-scoring team in the group stage.
“As a striker, scoring goals is what you do and one of the best feelings,” Kane said. “I was patient, and thankfully it came today. We have people scoring from all different positions and another great team performance.”
The two-goal difference at halftime did not quite match the balance of chances. Senegal appeared the more dangerous of the two teams, forcing England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford into one reflex save and generally causing jitters in the back line. But it was still clear that Senegal was missing the presence of its captain and inspirational striker, Sadio Mané, its only world-class forward.
While the chances came, Senegal’s forwards failed to take advantage of them. That lack of killer instinct was punished and exposed by England doing precisely the opposite, taking advantage of two of the few openings it managed to create.
England showed its ruthlessness 10 minutes into the second half when it ended the contest with a third score that mirrored the movement involved in its earlier goals. A fast transition led to the ball finding Foden, and his cross was timed perfectly for Bukayo Saka to flick over Édouard Mendy in the Senegal goal.
The goal allowed England’s coach, Gareth Southgate, the luxury of taking players off before sterner challenges. Having combined for the third goal, Foden and Saka were replaced together with 25 minutes to play, their jobs done, and England having overcome what could have been a tricky assignment.
The pairing with Senegal was only the second time that England had met an African opponent in the knockout stages of the World Cup. The last time, against Cameroon in 1990, was a very different affair and one England was fortunate to navigate, requiring an extra-time penalty by Gary Lineker to escape with a hard-fought 3-2 victory.
There was no chance Sunday of requiring extra time, or of England’s having to fight particularly hard to overcome Senegal in a second half that resembled an exhibition game in its latter stages, the crowd entertaining itself, performing a wave at one point.
For all the struggles of its players on the field, Senegal’s traveling supporters kept up a constant percussive beat to accompany the team, a backdrop that has become a hallmark of the tournament and will be missed with Senegal’s exit.
For England, the victory is another hurdle cleared in its now six-decade quest to replicate its sole World Cup triumph of 1966. The serenity of its progress will boost confidence that Southgate’s team — semifinalists four years ago in Russia — might be in contention for the biggest prize in two weeks.
Whether England reaches the pinnacle may depend on the continued excellence of the youngest member of its ranks. And Southgate was taking no chances. With just under 15 minutes left to play, the assistant referee raised his board, signaling it was time for Bellingham to take his leave.
Without much fuss, Bellingham looked up, applause ringing around the stadium, and jogged off.
“The biggest thing is the mentality,” Southgate said when asked to appraise the contribution made by Bellingham, explaining how England had spent the past decade improving how it develops young players like the Borussia Dortmund midfielder. “The thing that makes the difference is the mindset, the drive, the desire to learn and improve, and he has all of that.”
England will face a much tougher examination of its title credentials at the same stadium on Saturday against France and Mbappé. But with Bellingham in its ranks, anything is possible.
MONDAY’S WORLD CUP RESULTS
Round of 16
Brazil 4, South Korea 1
Croatia 1 (3), Japan 1 (1)