Since Iceland, England have won two knockout games at a World Cup, losing only the third – the semi-finals – after extra time and then at the last European Championship by reaching the final, going through extra time and going the distance on penalties. That’s a lot of experience from knockout football to take advantage of from the memory banks. If Senegal is battle-hardened, so is England.
Strangely, England’s 1,040. International match the first against the Lions of Teranga who finished second behind the Netherlands after beating Qatar and Ecuador in Group A. It is also the first time England have met African opponents in a knockout game since Sir Bobby Robson’s side beat Cameroon 3-2 after extra time in the Italia 90 quarter-finals.
Much like England, Senegal have a former player in charge for some time in Aliou Cisse who has guided them impressively since 2015 and guided them to the 2018 World Cup where they were eliminated due to Fifa Fair Play yellow card-breakers and two finals in a row at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Earlier this year they beat Egypt on penalties as they were the better side and have tried to get into English minds by talking about how they would enjoy taking the last 16 to another penalty shootout. They are full of confidence and Cisse, the former Birmingham City midfielder, wants history to repeat itself: he was captain when Senegal reached the quarter-finals in 2002.
England’s concern will be to destroy Senegal’s impressive base
While they may be without the injured Sadio Mane, arguably the best player Senegal has ever produced, and the suspended Idrissa Gueye, who will weaken their already depleted midfield, England’s concern will be to destroy their impressive base.
Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy or captain Kalidou Koulibaly has not had a great season at Chelsea but they have shone in the tournament – as have club-mates like Moroccan Hakim Ziyech and American Christian Pulisic. Add in centre-back Abdou Diallo, on loan from Paris Saint-Germain for RB Leipzig, and it won’t be easy as long as England fans are aware of the threat posed by Ismaila Sarr. He may be in the Championship with Watford but the striker is undeniably Premier League quality. Fellow Sheffield United attackers Iliman Ndiaye, who is as skilled as Sarr, and the more physical Boulaye Dia are also threats.
“It’s always going to be very, very tough against a team that’s African champions,” warned Henderson, who was able to keep his place after a dominant substitute against USA and should play well in the win against Wales.
“Yes we can see they are missing Sadio Mane who is a great player for them and a great player for any team. But they went into the knockout round without him and they feel confident, they feel good and they are used to winning.”
It won’t be easy for England but it seems they are up for the challenge and should progress.