England sweep past Senegal to set up World Cup quarter-final with France

Goals from Jordan Henderson, Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka were enough to secure victory and a place in the last eight against the World Cup holders

From first to last, the drum beats were relentless from the small section of Senegal supporters. They pounded in the temples of everybody present, creating an oppressive backdrop to this high-stakes occasion. It was one in which England had to show their concentration, their resilience, their quality. How they succeeded, lengthening their stride after a sticky start to set up a mouthwatering quarter-final against France on Saturday back here at Al Bayt.

England stayed calm when Senegal threatened to turn the first half into an ordeal for them and, when they had their opportunities, they made them count. Jordan Henderson does not score many at this level but he was there to get things started and, when Harry Kane made it 2-0 before half-time, it felt as though Senegal were broken.

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It was Kane’s first goal at this World Cup. He knew it would come. He even said so during the buildup. The rush of elation for him was familiar but it still felt impossibly good. As it did for Bukayo Saka, who scored the third just before the hour – his third of the tournament.

Gareth Southgate could feel a measure of vindication for the decision to recall him at the expense of Marcus Rashford – the hero of the victory over Wales in the final group game.

More than the goalscorers, though, it was Jude Bellingham who made it happen. It was the 19-year-old who flung himself into challenges at the outset as England struggled and it was he who ignited the moves for the first two goals.

It added up to Southgate’s sixth knockout win at major tournaments – England have 15 in total – and it added a layer of resonance to what he had said on Saturday, his line about feeling there was the potential for another “incredible journey” at these finals. A third consecutive clean sheet was another bonus. England can hear the knock of opportunity.

The two-goal half-time lead was what Southgate would have dreamed about but his team took their time to find their groove. The truth was that they laboured until Henderson’s breakthrough in the 37th minute. Their passing lacked zip and the centre-halves, Harry Maguire and John Stones, lived on the edge at times.

Harry Kane thrashes his shot home to make it 2-0 to England
Harry Kane thrashes his shot home to make it 2-0 to England, his first goal of this World Cup. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

England would enjoy an almighty let-off on 22 minutes and it followed a loose Maguire pass. Krépin Diatta intercepted and drove, crossing from the right and that was when the ball broke off Boulaye Dia, who had challenged with Stones, and fell for Ismaïla Sarr. Did it catch Stones’s hand? No. Sarr had to score. Instead, he blazed high from six yards.

Senegal played on the front foot in the first half, moving the ball nicely, hinting at problems for England. Their supporters made their side-to-side dance moves in mesmeric sync. The tie could have taken another unwanted turn for England after the half-hour. Again, the passing was loose, Saka giving the ball away to Sarr and, when he played in Dia, the striker bought a yard off Stones to the left of goal and shot. Jordan Pickford showed excellent reflexes to make the save.

At that point, England had offered next to nothing as an attacking force. Then they made their play and it was exhilarating, Bellingham at the heart of the transformation. It was a flick from Phil Foden that started the move for the opener and, when Kane looked up the left flank, Bellingham was already running, taking the pass in his rangy stride, Senegal hearts quickening. Bellingham’s cutback was a thing of beauty, all vision and perfect weighting. Henderson’s left-foot finish was true.

Senegal were rocked and England sought to find the knockout. Saka’s cross was behind Kane, who could not adjust, lifting high, while Luke Shaw took a poor touch after stepping up to win the ball and swapping passes with the irrepressible Bellingham. It took Shaw away from goal at the crucial moment.

England face France next, in their sixth tournament meeting. How the previous five panned out: 

July 1966 World Cup, Group 1

England 2 France 0 

Two goals from Roger Hunt, one in each half, meant England topped the group at Wembley. Albert Barham in the Guardian wasn’t impressed, though - warning England needed to raise their game in the knockouts. “They made hard work of this robust encounter … there was no runaway victory fondly kindled in many hopeful hearts after the inept displays by France in their other two matches”. 

June 1982 World Cup, Group 4

England 3 France 1 

Two goals from Bryan Robson - the first after 27 seconds - and one from Paul Mariner gave Ron Greenwood’s side victory in their opener in Bilbao. But David Lacey warned in the Guardian how France had “often played with greater skill, imagination and wit”. England duly failed to make it beyond the second group stage, drawing 0-0 with both Spain and West Germany. 

June 1992 Euros, Group 1

France 0 England 0

After a second straight scoreless draw, Graham Taylor lost his cool with the media. “These young men get crucified, I get crucified and then people wonder why we can’t play. Whatever you do all you get is a barrow-full of bloody criticism.” His side then lost the crucial third game against Sweden, during which Taylor subbed off Gary Lineker - prompting the Sun’s: “Swedes 2 Turnips 1” headline.

June 2004 Euros, Group B

France 2 England 1

An electric finish at Estádio Da Luz: Zinedine Zidane scoring a free-kick and a penalty to seal a breathless comeback after Frank Lampard’s opener and David Beckham’s penalty miss. Sven-Göran Eriksson was left bewildered. “I do not think they created many chances. I was thinking we cannot lose. Obviously we did.” His side later lost to Portugal on penalties in the quarter-finals.

June 2012 Euros, Group D

France 1 England 1

A ponderously flat opener: Joleon Lescott giving England the lead before his Manchester City team-mate Samir Nasri levelled. “We were much better than them,” said France defender Patrice Evra. “At times it was like there were 15 bodies on the line.” Roy Hodgson’s side went on to win the group, then lost on penalties to Italy in the quarters.

England’s second was the slickest of counters, Bellingham the catalyst, winning the ball as Senegal pushed in the final third and flicking on the afterburners. He eased away from one would-be tackler and found Foden, who knew where Kane was and found him with a short switch. Over to Kane. One-on-one with Édouard Mendy, he had time to think about it. Good. He concentrated on the connection and it was sweet, the shot zinging into the far corner.

Southgate had been unable to select Raheem Sterling because the winger had to return to London after his family home was burgled and it was surely a tough call to omit Rashford. As Southgate has stressed, however, it is not only about the starting XI.


Senegal’s fine start morphed dramatically into a nightmare for them and it was all over when Saka scored, moments after Mendy had almost spilled a Kane blast from distance.

England’s ability to win the ball high up was a factor in their supremacy and, when Shaw did so on the left, they were up and running again. Kane was involved and it was Foden who played the final pass, a low cross from the left, which Saka read before his marker, Ismail Jakobs. Saka’s dinked finish was too good for Mendy.

England had put an unbeaten record against African opposition on the line. Never in 20 previous meetings with teams from the continent had they lost and that took in seven World Cup ties – the most famous of which was surely the quarter-final win over Cameroon at Italia 90. This one might not be remembered as a classic; it came to feel too comfortable. It was no less important.


David Hytner at Al Bayt Stadium

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