England's flat start quickly forgotten about as they ease past Senegal to set up World Cup showdown with France

England overcame Senegal 3-0, with Harry Kane among the goalscorers.England overcame Senegal 3-0, with Harry Kane among the goalscorers.
England overcame Senegal 3-0, with Harry Kane among the goalscorers.
England survived a punctured ball and an even flatter start to keep their World Cup dream very much alive. Goals in the last ten minutes of the first half, the second arriving with the last action of the half from Harry Kane, helped set up a classic-sounding quarter final meeting against France this weekend.

Another goal from Bukayo Saka 12 minutes into the second half confirmed the 3-0 win and a December 10 date against Didier Deschamps’ reigning champions back at the same Al Bayt stadium where England dismissed Senegal with eventual ease.

It was all, in the end, supremely straightforward, with Kane pulling the strings from often deep positions, as has been his wont this World Cup, as well as getting off the mark at this tournament with the last kick of the opening half.

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For the third successive major finals, England have reached the last eight. Relegation from the Nations League feels a long time ago now. It was more vindication for Gareth Southgate, who raised eyebrows by dropping Marcus Rashford, who has scored twice against Wales in the final group game, in order to restore Saka to the side.

Jordan Henderson opened the scoring for England.Jordan Henderson opened the scoring for England.
Jordan Henderson opened the scoring for England.

Whatever the manager does seems to work in Qatar and he also coped with the pre-match loss of Raheem Sterling, who dropped out of the squad after being informed that there had been a break in at his home. England have already lost the services of Arsenal defender Ben White, who has flown home for personal reasons.

Otherwise, things are progressing very serenely for England. They have already equalled the 12 goals scored in Russia four years ago. They haven't even picked up a booking yet. It’s the first time they have won knockout games at three successive tournaments.

Incredibly, Jude Bellingham continues to be a key player at the age of just 19. The match ball had to be replaced after only of his challenges early on. He melds aggression with talent.

The Borussia Dortmund midfielder is the type of once-in-a-generation player who could see England realise the great goal of emulating 1966 but they know France, and their own phenomenon called Kylian Mbappe, will have other ideas. It’s England's first great test of these finals and few will make them favourites to overcome the reigning champions, who were themselves imperious while beating Poland 3-1 earlier in the day.

England manager Gareth Southgate consoles the Senegal players.England manager Gareth Southgate consoles the Senegal players.
England manager Gareth Southgate consoles the Senegal players.

Mbappe scored twice and the England defenders will hardly relish facing the player of these finals-so-far. Kyle Walker, England’s right back, is fast, but whether he can deal with Mbappe’s pace and wiles is another question. Southgate at least has six days to come up with a plan.

England do of course have their own match winners such as Bellingham and Phil Foden, who provided two assists against Senegal. They also have gritty, redoubtable midfielders like Jordan Henderson, who justified his inclusion with another powerful performance as well as the game-changing opening goal. Bellingham accepted another of Kane's clever balls from deep before picking out the Liverpool skipper with a precise cutback. Henderson drilled a left-footed shot beyond Mendy and England's unimpressive opening was forgotten.

Senegal, for all that they are African champions, could not reach the level they would have hoped for. Hamstrung by injuries and with their own manager, Aliou Cisse, fighting a high temperature that meant he was a doubt to even appear in their dugout, they were always up against it. But their start belied such problems.

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Senegal began full of intent. England, by contrast, were plodding and unimaginative. Their midfield, Bellingham included, was being dominated by the opposition and centre-halves Harry Maguire and John Stones looked set to have one of those nights where they turn into hapless shadows of themselves. For a spell they were unable to pick out a teammate with a path. Stones also survived a penalty shout against him when he handled in a passage of play that saw Senegal miss perhaps their best chance. Ismaila Sarr fired a loose ball over after Stones’ challenge on Boulaye Dia had seen the ball drop invitingly off having struck the defender’s hand. England survived on both counts. They also had goalkeeper Jordan Pickford to thank for his strong left arm used to keep out Dia's effort just after the half hour mark.

Already blessed with plenty of time to prepare for Saturday’s clash, England had the luxury, just as against Wales last week, of making changes with the next challenge in mind. Jack Grealish and Rashford came on with the score at 3-0 in place of Foden and Saka.

Foden had excelled again. He set up Kane for a smart finish to make it 2-0 after Bellingham launched a lightning quick break after a Senegal attack had broken down. Bellingham fed Foden, who in turn placed a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Kane. The striker took a touch before planting a shot beyond Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy.

Senegal were a disappointment. Two of their forwards play their football at Watford and Sheffield United. Another, Dia, is currently on loan at mid-table Serie A side Salernitana. They missed their genuinely world class talisman Sadio Mane and they and their supporters knew the game was up long before the end as they lamented missing out on a re-match of the opening game of the 2002 World Cup, when they delivered such a shock by defeating France, reigning world champions then too, 1-0. Saka made sure of England's win with a lovely dinked finish after superb play on the left from Foden. A titanic clash now awaits on Saturday.