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World Cup 2022: The Senegal mistakes that typified last 16 car crash against England

09:04 WAT 05/12/2022
England Senegal World Cup 2022
The Lions of Teranga were beaten 3-0 by Gareth Southgate’s men, who effectively won the game within eight first-half minutes

Senegal taking on England was billed as Africa’s chance of ending the Three Lions’ seven-game unbeaten run against sides from the continent, but the night ended with the European nation extending that streak to eight.

The preceding seven matches saw the 1966 world champions keep five clean sheets, a number that extended to six after a 3-0 success over Aliou Cisse’s team at Al Bayt Stadium.

Jordan Henderson opened the scoring for the Three Lions after 38 minutes, and Harry Kane doubled the pre-game favourites’ advantage just before half-time, a goal that was a real kick in the teeth. Going in at half-time 1-0 down gave Senegal a chance of levelling after the interlude. But going in 2-0 down altered Cisse’s team talk and left the Lions of Teranga with too much to do.

The African champions’ limitations were exposed by an England side that played through their opponents with ease at times and could have netted more if they did not ease off after Bukayo Saka made it 3-0.

At the other end, Southgate’s men conceded only one shot on target for the entirety of the game, adding up to Expected Goals (xG) of 0.80, continuing a run in Qatar that has seen the Three Lions conceding attempts in open play below xG of 1.0 against Iran, the United States of America and Wales.

On a night Africa’s best side got outclassed, could the game have gone differently had better decisions been made or if players had better outings?

‘Bad Koulibaly’ resurfaced

The opening minutes set the tone for the Senegal captain’s performance, and he never recovered in the first half as England intermittently overwhelmed the Lions of Teranga.

Koulibaly’s half was characterised by missed tackles and interceptions, where he looked half a yard slow to regain possession and often required other teammates to shuffle across on the cover.

One on occasion, the Chelsea man — oblivious to Harry Kane’s presence to his rear and centre-back partner Abdou Diallo dropping off — looked to play offside and was incandescent when the linesman did not flag after that action.

It did not help that the former Napoli defender was erratic in possession, leaving passes short or overhitting them.

That haphazardness with the ball was exasperating, and the obvious defensive flaws out of possession demonstrated Koulibaly’s egregious night.

His booking with 15 minutes to play for a needless foul on Kane capped off a horrible 90 minutes for Senegal’s captain.

Koulibaly was responsible for the Lions’ first knockout game at the World Cup in 20 years but was significantly culpable on a night they exited the finals in Qatar.

Senegal’s lack of decisive execution

The 3-0 score suggests the Three Lions had a comfortable evening, but it was largely down to Kane’s timely first strike at this tournament just before the interlude. Senegal faced an uphill task afterwards and mustered little after the break.

Preceding England’s pair of strikes that arrived in the final eight minutes of the first half were a few opportunities for Cisse’s men to stun their fancied opponents.

In the fourth minute, Boulaye Dia’s pace looked to have put John Stones and Harry Maguire in a spot of bother but the Salernitana attacker could not get the ball under control, and the Manchester United defender snuffed out the danger.

At the half-hour mark, Senegal’s central striker admittedly did everything right after Ismaila Sarr slipped him through but was denied by Jordan Pickford’s outstretched left wrist.

Those Dia chances came either side of Sarr’s miss in the 22nd minute, where the Watford attacker could only fire over from four yards under pressure from Pickford. Sarr seemed more concerned with the John Stones handball in the build-up, perhaps trying to distract from what was a shocking miss by his standards.

Senegal did not have any effort on target after Dia’s left-footed 31st-minute shot, but you wonder what might have been if they scored from one of their promising opportunities before England settled and raced into a 2-0 lead at the break.

What were Senegal thinking for England’s second?

It was the third minute of stoppage time in the opening half, not the dying embers of second-half garbage time.

Senegal did not have to go gung-ho at the time and they were caught by England’s counter-attack for the goal that effectively ended the game as a contest.

The African nation had four players in the box when Ismail Jakobs’ cross was diverted away to the edge of the area by Kyle Walker.

Ismaila Ciss’ failure to get the ball under control meant Jude Bellingham was able to recover the ball and motor forward. Knowing the precarious situation, it was surprising that Youssouf Sabaly only put a half-hearted attempt to foul the Borussia Dortmund midfielder.

Bellingham escaped the right-back and released Phil Foden, leaving the Three Lions in a two-v-one situation with Koulibaly outnumbered on the break.

Kane made no mistake and doubled the 1966 world champions’ advantage. Game over.

Aliou Cisse may rue returning to his pre-World Cup blueprint by playing a 4-2-3-1 that often morphed into a 4-4-2 in Idrissa Gueye’s absence. The Lions’ coach utilised a similar scheme against Iran in September with Sadio Mane often playing in tandem with Dia while Sarr and Krepin Diatta operated as the team’s wide attackers.

Against an opponent of higher standing, was a near identical style ill-advised? Unfortunately, we will never know even if for a half-hour the African champions looked occasionally menacing.

Senegal’s inability to convert their promising openings at 0-0 and lacking the required game management to accept a 1-0 half-time deficit respectively cost them the opportunity to go in front and have a fighting chance after the break.

Some would say that is a simplistic summation of the 3-0 defeat, but it probably denied the Lions of Teranga another quarter-final fixture at the World Cup and a rematch of their debut against France 20 years ago.