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#qatar 2022 The Peninsula
Time will tell where England's latest tournament adventure leads but as the Group B winners prepare to face Senegal tomorrow, there is already one area where they have improved on their 2018 performance.
When reaching the semi-finals four years ago, England scored three open-play goals, leaning heavily on their set-piece prowess. Four years on they have already hit seven goals from open play. They have also been more clinical with their shooting.
Their nine goals in the group stage – a record for an England side at a World Cup – came from 38 attempts, which works out at a goal every 4.22 attempts. In Russia, they needed 8.1 shots per goal.
Admittedly, the figure for this tournament comes from a smaller sample size of three group games and knockout football is invariably tighter, but it is a highly encouraging start from a team who had failed to score in four of their six games prior to coming to Qatar. Moreover, the identity of their scorers highlights the rich attacking options available to manager Gareth Southgate.
While Harry Kane, the adidas Golden Boot winner in Russia, has yet to find the net, six of his team-mates have scored. Marcus Rashford, whose free-kick opener against Wales was his nation's 100th World Cup goal, is currently the tournament's joint-leading scorer with three. It is a striking resurgence from a player who, prior to netting within 49 seconds of his introduction against Iran, had not played for England since the final of UEFA EURO 2022.
Against Iran, it was Bukayo Saka who took the Player of the Match award for his two-goal contribution. Meanwhile against Wales on Monday, it was Phil Foden's turn to shine, scoring on his first World Cup start having won the free-kick that led to the opening goal.
Add Raheem Sterling, who hit his 20th England goal against Iran, and Jack Grealish, who came off the bench in that game to score, and it is intriguing to wonder who Southgate will turn to for the Senegal game.
Martin Keown, a member of England's World Cup squads at France 98 and Korea/Japan 2002, argues that Saka and Foden should be the men to start on either side of Kane – with Foden on the left, where he spent the second half of the Wales game, having begun on the right.
Working for the BBC here in Qatar, Keown told FIFA+:“I would go for Foden as a wide-left player. I think it's his natural position which we did at half time we moved him to the left-hand side.
“I would keep Saka on the right,” added the former Arsenal centre-back.“He scored two great goals in the first game and I like his maturity and the quality of his finishing. You can see that extra bit of composure and authority in his play. And if you're a left-back trying to deal with a left footed player coming inside with the ball opening up for him, it isn't easy. I like Saka there and he will do the miles getting back too.”
On Manchester City's Foden, whose goal against Wales was his first for his country since November 2020, Keown sees him as the perfect player for the Senegal game.
He explained:“Senegal are a very physical team so I think we'd be better off with our best footballers, our best ball players. I don't think we can out-strength them but we can certainly outplay them if we choose the right tactics. Foden is very direct so he will run at the heart of their defence.'
And that includes Kane, who has provided three assists, the most by an England player at a World Cup since David Beckham in 2002, but is still waiting to add to his total of 10 tournament goals in an England shirt (including four at EURO 2020).
Keown said of the England skipper:“Harry is suddenly becoming more of an assist man. He is not looking as sharp as he did. I don't think he scored a single game in the group stage at the EURO, so we shouldn't be that concerned as he couldn't stop scoring after that. We are in good shape.”
Just how good, is something we will know more about tomorrow.
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