At Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday, England and last-16 rival Senegal square off for a spot in the World Cup quarterfinals.
The Three Lions take on the Lions of Teranga in a first-ever encounter between the two countries after Gareth Southgate’s team defeated Wales to win Group B. Their captain’s pivotal intervention allowed them to advance to the knockout stages.
Again defying the odds, England’s performance in the second half of Tuesday’s final group game allowed them to advance as Group B winners to Qatar 2022’s round of 16 in addition to sweeping aside their Welsh neighbors.
At Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, they scored twice in 98 seconds. Marcus Rashford scored the first goal off a free kick in the 50th minute, and Phil Foden added the second. After regaining his strength, Rashford added the final flourish by scoring his country’s 100th World Cup goal with a third goal.
The Three Lions more closely resembled the team that mercilessly destroyed Iran last week after a lackluster performance in their draw with the United States just a few days earlier. Such attacking intent has confirmed their credentials to match recent runs at major finals.
They reached the World Cup’s final four in 2018 under criticized manager Gareth Southgate before coming up just short at the Euros last year on home soil, so they certainly have the track record to support hopes of winning a first major championship since 1966.
Since England hasn’t suffered a defeat in 20 games against opponents from Africa, they will face Group A’s runner-up Senegal in Al Khor on Sunday. Southgate’s current group of players will undoubtedly start as favorites to advance.
After a terrible run of results through 2022, during which they were demoted from the top division of UEFA’s Nations League, they began their quest for an elusive second World Cup. However, a return to form for Manchester United teammates Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire has contributed to the momentum behind their Qatari campaign.
Despite their close calls, England has gained a ton of tournament experience over the past three years and will go into their last-16 matchup full of self-assurance.
Senegal, who arrived in the Middle East as African champions and has now secured safe passage to the knockout stage for for a second time, shouldn’t be lacking in that most precious of goods either.
They owe their victory over Ecuador in a winner-takes-all match, which they edged out on Tuesday at Khalifa International Stadium, to captain Kalidou Koulibaly’s goal in the 70th minute.
After Ismaila Sarr’s first-half penalty had been equalized by their South American opponents, the center-calm back’s volley was necessary, and Aliou Cisse’s team ultimately followed up a routine victory over Qatar. After losing to the Netherlands in their opening match, the latter outcome followed.
Cisse now seeks to guide Senegal into the quarterfinals with the help of assistant El Hadji Diouf, another hero of Senegal’s illustrious 2002 campaign. If successful, this may set up a dramatic rematch with France, whom Senegal defeated in the tournament’s opening encounter 20 years ago.
The former Birmingham City midfielder has since 2015 cultivated a feisty and technically aware side, the majority of which lifted a first Africa Cup of Nations trophy in February after winning the final on penalties. He may be missing star player Sadio Mane in Qatar.
The only African team to date to defeat a European opponent in a World Cup knockout match was Senegal, who defeated Sweden.
If it comes to penalty kicks, the Lions of Teranga may therefore hold a distinct advantage over their English counterparts, who have so frequently experienced painful failure in shootouts.
While Kyle Walker, Phil Foden, Jordan Henderson, and Marcus Rashford—all of whom were introduced to the starting XI against Wales—undoubtedly enjoyed having their faith repaid, Gareth Southgate now finds himself in a difficult situation.
On Sunday, he will not only take into consideration putting back Kieran Trippier, Bukayo Saka, and fan favorite Raheem Sterling, but he may also opt to switch from a back four to a versatile three-man defense.
In either scenario, Declan Rice, Henderson, and Borussia Dortmund youngster Jude Bellingham should form a central-midfield triumvirate with the second-youngest English player to gain 20 senior caps. James Maddison and Kalvin Phillips are both still not fully fit.
In order to score his first goal at this year’s championships, captain Harry Kane, who won the Golden Boot in Russia in 2018, will once again start up front for the Three Lions.
Senegal’s attempt to advance to the round of eight, though, must be made without both Sadio Mane and Idrissa Gueye, his old Merseyside club rival.
The workhorse midfielder is suspended after earning his second caution of the championships against Ecuador, and Cheikhou Kouyate, who suffered an ankle injury in their opening game, is currently ruled out of practice. Therefore, Nampalys Mendy of Leicester City should fill in.
Ismaila Sarr of Watford and Iliman Ndiaye of Sheffield United have stepped up in Sadio Mane’s conspicuous absence; Famara Diedhiou and Krepin Diatta are other candidates to play on Sunday; Salernitana striker Boulaye Dia is the main goal threat.
The Senegalese defense, led by Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly of Chelsea, is expected to stay the same under coach Aliou Cisse.
Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw, Rice, Henderson, Bellingham, Saka, Kane, and Foden might be England’s starting eleven.
Possible starting lineup for Senegal includes E. Mendy, Sabaly, Koulibaly, Diallo, and Jakobs; P. Gueye, N. Mendy, and Ciss; and Ndiaye, Dia, and I. Sarr.