England’s World Cup campaign got off to a flying start, as they took a commanding 3-0 lead by half-time, against Iran, before running out 6-2 winners. After such a strong attacking effort, the Three Lions stuttered in being held to a goalless draw by the USA. They sealed qualification with a comfortable 3-0 victory over neighbours Wales. England averaged 66.3% possession in their group games and registered a total of 17 shots on target while allowing only five. There has been much discussion as to who should occupy the wide berths on either side of Harry Kane, but both Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford made a strong case for inclusion with their performances against Wales. Gareth Southgate seems to have settled on a back four, rather than three at the back, with Kyle Walker brought back in at right-back as soon as he had recovered from injury.
The champions of Africa, Senegal received a hammer blow before the tournament even began. They had initially hoped that their all-time record goalscorer, Sadio Mané would only miss the Group Stage but discovered, prior to the opening game with the Netherlands, that the Bayern Munich man would miss the entire tournament. The Lions of Teranga held out until the 84th minute against the Netherlands and conceded a second goal nine minutes into injury time. They got things back on track with a 3-1 win over hosts, Qatar, before facing Ecuador, in what always looked like Group A’s decisive game. Having taken the lead with a late first-half penalty, two goals in the matter of three frantic minutes saw the qualification place alongside the Netherlands, go to the west Africans. No sooner had Brighton’s Moses Caicedo brought Ecuador level, than captain Kalidou Koulibaly sealed Senegal’s spot in the knockout phase. Over their three games, Senegal averaged 47% possession and had a total of 12 shots on target, while allowing 10. Coach Aliou Cissé has generally employed a back four, mostly in a 4-2-3-1 formation but he may be without two more key players, as well as Mané. Vice-captain Idrissa Gueye, of Everton, will miss the game through suspension, and Nottingham Forest’s Cheikhou Kouyaté is struggling with an injury.
These two sides have never met, though Senegal drew 1-1 with a Great Britain side during the 2012 Olympics. England have not lost any of their seven previous meetings with African sides at the World Cup, with four wins and three draws. However, sides from that continent have caused the Three Lions plenty of problems. England have never beaten any African opponent in the World Cup by more than two goals, were behind against Cameroon in their 1990 quarter-final match until two Gary Lineker penalties saved their blushes, and needed a 91st—minute Harry Kane goal to beat Tunisia, in Russia. The Lions of Teranga will hope to cause the Three Lions similar problems.