Concentrating on the positives for England at the World Cup

When England sealed their place in the last 16 of this year’s World Cup by beating Wales, certain positives revived fans’ optimism. The main topics of conversation after the 3-0 win that sent home LAFC striker Gareth Bale and his compatriots from Qatar centered around the inclusion of Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden.

Those comments were certainly justified. Both played only a little bit in Gareth Southgate’s team in the first two games. Foden and Rashford both came on as second-half substitutes in Iran’s 6–2 demise. The Manchester United player made an immediate impression. He scored England’s fifth goal in the match. His reward was another 12 minutes as a substitute in the 0-0 draw with the USA. Meanwhile, Foden remained on the bench.

However, prior to the game against Wales, they were both placed in the starting line-up to devastating effect. Rashford scored twice, his goals coming either side of Foden’s first World Cup goal for his country. Yes, England can defend well, as evidenced by that stalemate with the US. But as top scorers to date, they have shown themselves to be a more effective team when playing on the forefoot.

It’s no surprise that both players have made their mark. After all, their performance in the English Premier League this season has been impressive. Rashford looks like he is back to his best and scored nine goals for his club before leaving for Qatar. As for Foden, he is an integral part of Pep Guardiola’s plans. He looks set to play a key role in City’s bid to not only win the Premier League again, but also clinch a maiden UEFA Champions League title.

Senegal is not a surprise package

Both players will be key for Southgate as they look to overtake Senegal in the round of 16 on Sunday. The African country wants to make its third visit to the World Cup final, a visit to remember and at least reach the quarter-finals for the second time in its history. Their manager, Aliou Cisse, seems to have rekindled the kind of team spirit he felt in 2002. Cisse’s impact on The Lions of Teranga in Japan and South Korea then helped defeat them World Cup holder France with 1-0 lead.

His team now has echoes of that team from 20 years ago. In Cisse’s defense there are those who have the quality to turn the offensive tide that England possess. Chelsea center back Kalidou Koulibaly starts alongside Abdou Diallo in the heart of the defence. Diallo is a player who has made a big impression in the Bundesliga for Dortmund, French champions Paris Saint Germain and most recently RB Leipzig.

Senegal also plays a midfield with two players who are deep when they don’t have possession. Therefore, the men of Southgate will certainly have to work hard to get past the Africans.

The positives for England at the 2022 World Cup

This is where Rashford and Foden’s quick feet and vision could be key to unlocking a route to the quarter-finals for England. Rashford’s abilities can be used in set pieces situations as he proved against Wales and Foden’s ability to find space, while also potentially needing to be called upon to be tightly marked. Leaving Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham as the ball winners and giving the ball to Rashford and Foden to score or assist in the potentially decisive goal.

Past results are good for the Three Lions. They have never lost to African opposition in the World Cup in seven previous encounters. Although, it’s not that simple. England achieved victory by more than one goal only once. Three of those seven games against African opponents ended in a goalless draw.

The past arguably teaches us that, while England is brimming with confidence, it still needs all the skill and trickery of Rashford and Foden to stand any chance of overcoming their next obstacle on the way to victory in Qatar 2022.

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