England reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup for a second tournament in a row thanks to a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Senegal.
It was a sluggish start from the Three Lions, but two quickfire goals from Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane at the end of the first half sparked a brilliant performance and put Gareth Southgate’s men in complete control of the match.
Kane’s goal was his 11th for England at a major tournament, the most by any Three Lions player in history.
Bukayo Saka added gloss to the scoreline in the second half, dinking the ball wonderfully over Senegal keeper Edouard Mendy after being found by Phil Foden’s low cross, as Aliou Cissé’s side never looked like it was getting back into the game.
The result and performance are as good as England has produced in knockout football under Southgate and will undoubtedly have set off renditions of ‘It’s Coming Home’ up and down the country.
Reaching the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup and the final of Euro 2020 has given this side invaluable experience in the latter stages of tournament football and fans will be hopeful this group of players can finally put an end to 56 years of hurt.
Slow start, fast finish
This England team is without a doubt one of the best at this tournament and the players will be confident of improving on their semifinal appearance in Russia four years ago.
England fans have grown weary of disappointment and heartbreak in the years since the country’s only major trophy win at the 1966 World Cup, and since taking over as manager in 2016, Gareth Southgate has given supporters renewed hope of finally ending that barren run.
The lead up to this tournament was far from ideal, however, as England suffered relegation from its Nations League group and was on the receiving end of some surprise defeats: the worst, a 4-0 hammering at home to Hungary.
But this team is tournament hardened, reaching the semifinal and then the final of its last two major competitions, and the players have turned it on when it’s mattered.
No team earned more points or scored more goals than England during the group stages and Southgate has the enviable problem of trying to pick from a plethora of attacking talent.
Given the vast amount of quality options in attack at the manager’s disposal, the former England international has been criticized at times for his conservative team selection and tactics, but it’s an approach that has so far served him well.
Southgate certainly hadn’t changed that approach here in what was an extremely cagey opening 25 minutes, and it was Senegal that had the first real chance of the game.
Harry Maguire, arguably England’s best player so far in this tournament, gave the ball away in a dangerous area which led to a brilliant chance for Ismaila Sarr, but he skied his effort over the bar under pressure from Jordan Pickford.
Despite the absence of star man Sadio Mané through injury, this Senegal team still boasts quality all over the pitch and England certainly would not have been taking the African champions lightly.
Senegal has grown into the tournament, improving with each passing game. The Lions of Teranga stepped it up once again against England and were undoubtedly the best team of the opening half an hour.
It was another England error, this time from John Stones while under pressure, that gave Senegal another opening, with Boulaye Dia drawing a smart save from Pickford.
But just when Senegal was really beginning to dominate, England countered with a sucker punch seven minutes before halftime.
Henderson finished off a sweeping counterattack, steering the ball home from inside the penalty area after being found by Jude Bellingham’s low cross.
That goal sparked England to life and the Three Lions finished the first half strongly, with Kane – still without a goal in this tournament – and Luke Shaw spurning good opportunities.
With the last kick of the half, England doubled its lead and put one foot into the quarterfinals.
It was only a matter of time before Kane got on the score sheet, with the Tottenham Hotspur forward finishing off another counterattack that was again started by Bellingham.
The Borussia Dortmund midfielder, still only 19 years old, was having a remarkable first half; it was an individual performance as good as any so far at this World Cup.
That quickfire double forced Senegal manager Aliou Cissé into making three substitutions at halftime, but his changes had very little effect on the game, if any.
The result was put beyond any doubt a little over 10 minutes into the second half, as Saka’s cute finish capped off another wonderful England move. Fans of the Three Lions have been used to nerve-racking matches over the years, but those second 45 minutes were likely the most relaxed supporters have been watching this team in a knockout match for years.
This victory sets up a mouthwatering clash against Kylian Mbappé and defending champion France in the quarterfinals, with the two European powerhouses battling it out for a place in the last four on Saturday.