Gareth Southgate’s England will face off against Aliou Cisse’s Senegal side in what promises to be an exciting pre-quarterfinal encounter. England finished on top of their group on the back of some good league stage performances from the likes of Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford, while Senegal coped well despite the absence of talisman forward Sadio Mane.
The Africans were considered to be dark horses entering into the tournament after a disciplined performance in the AFCON took them to glory in the competition. Mane was a central figure in their success, as he was in Liverpool’s Champions League final run. The player also scored 16 goals in a sparkling Premier League campaign for the Senegalese man, who was deployed as a centre forward in a false nine role in his last season at the club.
Although Senegal started off their World Cup campaign on a negative note with a 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands, Cisse’s men quickly turned things around and secured qualification with wins against host nation Qatar and Ecuador.
Kalidou Koulibaly has been brilliant for Senegal, as the veteran has showcased his experience at the biggest stage of world football. The Chelsea defender has been solid at the back, and also boasts an attacking return with his goal against Ecuador in his nation’s last group stage game.
England have been quite impressive in the tournament. The Three Lions kicked things off with a 6-2 smashing of Iran, followed by a slightly disappointing 0-0 draw against the United States. However, Southgate’s men bounced back with a fabulous 3-0 win against rivals Wales, knocking them out of their maiden World Cup.
Borussia Dortmund youngster Jude Bellingham has been one of the best midfielders in the world for the better part of two years now, and the surprising fact is that he is just 19 years old. Possessing a swagger well beyond his years, he is the perfect package when midfielders are considered. Equipped with superb passing and vision, Bellingham’s eye for goal makes him an absolute nightmare for defenders. His defensive work is also top-notch, and it is, therefore, no surprise that he will be expected to play a vital role in England’s knockout chances.
Harry Kane has been a bit off-colour in front of goal during the World Cup, having been unable to score so far in the tournament. However, Kane has amassed three assists in the World Cup thus far, which is a major strength in his game. His ability to hold up the play, control the game from deeper areas, play between the lines, and set up beautiful chances for his teammates sets him apart from the other top strikers of his generation.
In addition to these qualities, Kane is also a prolific goal scorer, with a staggering 185 goals in the Premier League in just more than nine seasons. The Tottenham forward was also back to his best in the League after a so-so campaign last season. He has 12 goals in just 15 games this season, and his return to scoring form for his country is just a matter of when rather than if.
Kalidou Koulibaly has been excellent for Senegal thus far in the World Cup, as he has been at the club level for close to a decade now. His frightening quickness, even with the ball at his feet is a huge strength, combined with his top-notch defensive awareness and experience, makes him a handful for opposition forwards. Although he hasn’t had the best of starts to his Chelsea career after a superb spell with Napoli, Koulibaly will be key to Senegal’s fortunes as they look to upstage the Three Lions.
Chelsea shotstopper Edouard Mendy has proven to be one of Cisse’s most trusted players in recent times, even rising at the club level to become Chelsea’s number one in their Champions League winning season. His form will be of huge significance in the round of 16 game against England, as Senegal will rely on him to keep a clean sheet against a potent English.
Senegal have been impressive in the World Cup so far and have lived up to their expectations as dark horses. The defending African champions will definitely not be a pushover, and even without Mane, the Senegalese promise to put up a respectable performance and are most capable of pulling off an upset victory.
That being said, they are still the underdogs heading into a knockout game against Southgate’s England, who seem to have adjusted well to the four-at-the-back system, as opposed to the 5-2-3 Southgate traditionally employed in big tournaments. England have played well in the group stages and will be expected to weather the Senegalese challenge and advance to the quarter-finals.