England overcame a pedestrian start to surge to a comfortable 3-0 victory over Senegal on Sunday as goals by Jordan Henderson, Harry Kane, and Bukayo Saka swept it into a mouth-watering World Cup quarterfinal clash with holder France.
England took a long time to impose itself on the African champion, a team it had never faced before and survived a couple of scares before two goals late in the first half changed the feel of the night, and it was no contest after the break.
The victory extended England’s all-time unbeaten run against African teams to 21 games, including eight in World Cups. Morocco, which faces Spain on Tuesday, is now the only African team left in the tournament.
The absence of the suspended Idrissa Gueye and injured Cheikhou Kouyate left Senegal’s midfield too underpowered to pose problems for England.
With Sadio Mane missing the tournament through injury, the Africans also lacked a cutting edge to trouble an England defence that kept a third successive World Cup clean sheet for the first time in 20 years.
Although it was eventually a convincing victory, England will need to look at how and why it took so long to impose itself.
For most of the first half, it was slow and static, and a series of misplaced passes gifted Senegal chances. The best of them fell to Boulaye Dia, and only the strong left arm of keeper Jordan Pickford prevented the Africans from taking the lead.
With the relentless Senegalese drummers spurring their men on, England’s normally vociferous fans were silent - and had nothing to lift them.
They found their voice after 38 minutes though, when England finally injected some pace, breaking down the left through Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham, who crossed for late-arriving Henderson to stroke home the opener.
Kane had an almost identical chance minutes later, and though he sidefooted over, his goal drought at this tournament came to an end in emphatic style in first-half stoppage time.
Bellingham again surged from his own box and fed Foden, who rolled the ball into the path of the captain to smash in an unstoppable shot to become England’s eighth scorer in Qatar.
It was a lead that had looked unlikely, but England came out full of confidence after the break, and it no longer felt like a contest.
Saka, recalled by coach Gareth Southgate in his only change from the win over Wales, cleverly lifted in the third after 58 minutes following a penetrating run and low cross by Foden.
It was England’s 12th goal of the tournament, the most by any team in Qatar and matching its all-time record set four years ago when it went all the way to the semifinals.
From then on England was able to go through the motions and keep out of trouble as it is still yet to have a yellow card and seems to have avoided any major injuries going into the France showdown.
It knows it will be unlikely to get away with a similarly slow start next Saturday night against a French team who impressively dispatched Poland 3-0 earlier on Sunday, but the holder too will be well aware that its old rivals possess the weapons to do real damage if it gets the chance.
Get all the results for the FIFA World Cup 2022 here: Full list of all matches, scores, results, goalscorers
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