As England cruised past Wales 3-0 in Doha, they guaranteed top spot in their World Cup group as well as passage to the round of 16. It has been a rollercoaster of emotion for many England fans in Qatar, as months of lacklustre performances were overshadowed by the 6-2 demolition job of Iran, only to be reminded of the squad’s fragility throughout a tedious goalless draw with the USA. That being said, Gareth Southgate’s team selection was spot on against Wales and it showcased the side’s best traits ahead of the next round against Senegal.
While the Three Lions know they come in as favourites amongst England v Senegal betting odds, and Southgate has demonstrated he can reach the latter stages of tournaments before, his side still need to be wary of the threats that Senegal bring. Having qualified with talisman Sadio Mane absent, the Africa Cup of Nations winners entered Qatar with a point to prove, and after beating Qatar and Ecuador they compensated for a poor start against the Netherlands.
Southgate knows his team can’t be naïve, addressing that his side will have to deal with the pressure of expectations heading into Sunday’s game with the African champions. “We know on the rankings we will be favourites – we’ve got to deal with that – but they’re a very dangerous team,” he said. “The first objective is achieved. To this point we’re really pleased. The big business starts now.”
Senegal are more than capable of punishing England on their day, but who are the players that can cause the most damage? Read on, as we look at Aliou Cisse’s best players ahead of the World Cup round of 16.
Without Mane in the side, the pressure has been on Watford’s Ismaïla Sarr to lead the line for Senegal, and the winger has fit the billing perfectly so far. Relegated from the Premier League last season, Sarr failed to secure a move from Vicarage Road, but internationally he has shown he can still compete at the highest level. His penalty against Ecuador was composed and finished excellently, and his pace and pressing have added to the maturity he is now showing off the ball to work back and help his side — something that will be crucial against England’s fullbacks.
The enforcer at the back, Kalidou Koulibaly showed he can also add goals to his game in Qatar with a well-taken finish against Ecuador. The colossal centre-back kept Enner Valencia at bay for the majority of the game and having already played against Harry Kane this season for Chelsea against Tottenham Hotspur — another match in which he found the back of the net — he’ll be well prepared for the physical battle. Koulibaly is the organiser of the back four, and alongside RB Leipzig’s Abdou Diallo, Senegal will be hard to beat.
If Cisse’s side are to grab a goal, it is likely to come from Boulaye Dia. While he’s only scored one so far, the number nine is an awkward striker in the sense he’ll want to fight with England’s defenders and cause havoc off the ball. The 26-year-old, on loan in Italy from Villarreal, has caught the attention of a number of sides with his physical presence, and if he is afforded too much space he won’t be as wasteful as the Welsh and is likely to punish the Three Lions if given the opportunity.