Battle of Lions at Al Bayt as England, Senegal Gun for Q’ final Ticket

Duro Ikhazuagbe

Ahead of tonight’s Round of 16 clash between England and African champions Senegal at the Al Bayt Stadium, Three Lions’ Manager, Gareth Southgate yesterday warned his players never to take the Teranga Lions for granted as that could prove disastrous.

Southgate agreed that his England have been tagged one of the favourites to win the tournament here in Qatar after finishing as semi finalists in Russia four years ago as well as emerging runners up at the Euro 2020 hosted on home soil.

“We don’t forget that Senegal are African champions and have some excellent individual players who can cause problems for us,” observed the former England international who insists he has no intentions to underestimate the Senegalese tonight.

“We have been very impressed with Senegal. We know they are African champions and are very proud and have great spirit and belief in their team,” Southgate said at the  pre-match briefing on Saturday.

“We will be considered the favourites and Senegal the underdogs but that doesn’t really mean anything in a one-off game.”

Despite the absence of injured Bayern Munich forward Sadio Mane, Aliou Cisse’s  men  have won as many games as England in the tournament, with both teams earning two victories in the group stage.

Senegal are also fresh from winning their maiden African Cup of Nations crown last year in Cameroon.

“Sadio is an incredible player and every team would want to have him but Senegal have become very strong in his absence,” Southgate further stressed.

“They have shown great spirit through losing him. We have got to be at our very best to win the game. Cisse has done a fantastic job. We know the size of the job ahead of us.”

After coming close to silverware at the last two major tournaments, England are hoping to take the final step in Doha.

Southgate believes the experience his players gained during those runs to the latter stages will stand them in good stead as they chase England’s first trophy since the 1966 World Cup.

“We learned a lot from playing seven matches at the last two tournaments and the need to keep the players involved emotionally,” he said.

“The biggest thing is the expectation levels. In Russia when we qualified from the group stages we were probably more excited than this time.

“There was an awful lot of noise after our draw against the United States, but we’ve stayed on track and qualified as well as anyone else.”

Southgate must decide whether to retain Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford in England’s attack after both impressed with goal-scoring displays in the win over Wales.

Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount were all left out of the Wales game, underlining England’s strength in depth in forward areas.

“It is a good position to be in, you want your players to be in a confident mood and our forward players certainly are,” Southgate said.

“Of course you want to make the best possible decision but in some respects I am not sure there is a right or wrong. Whichever players we start with we’ll need the bench as well.”

England captain Harry Kane remains without a goal at the tournament after finishing as top scorer in the 2018 edition.

But Kane said: “I’d love to be sitting here with two or three goals by now. Going into the knock out stage, I feel really good. I feel as match fit as I’m ever going to feel. Only time will tell. I can try and come into the best form with these knockout games.”

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