Paul McGrath: England will have too much firepower for Senegal

Three Lions’ attacking threat and its strong bench will roll over Africans

England's Marcus Rashford is in the battle to be the Golden Boot at this World Cup. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.© PA

Harry Kane (right) and Bukayo Saka are just two of England's attacking threat. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.© PA

Sadio Mane's absence from the World Cup is a big blow to Senegal's hopes. Photo: Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images© DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Senegal's Kalidou Koulibaly, right, celebrates with teammates scoring his side's second goal during the World Cup group A soccer match between Ecuador and Senegal, at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)© AP

DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 01: Gareth Southgate, Head Coach of England, looks on during the England Training Session at Al Wakrah Stadium on December 01, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)© Getty Images

Paul McGrathSunday World

I saw it written the other day that Senegal would be well able to beat England this evening if Sadio Mane was playing.

And there’s more than a grain of truth in that.

I’m not at all convinced about England’s defence so far in this World Cup – and Mane would be just the man to put them to the sword.

But England have got a break in this one and I believe they will convert the absence of Senegal’s best player into a ticket to the quarter-finals.

There England will run into a team that includes either a chap called Mbappé or one called Lewandowski – and that is where it may get interesting, if not downright painful, for the Three Lions.

I wrote in my World Cup preview that my ex-Aston Villa team-mate, and now England manager, Gareth Southgate views loyalty as a great trait.

And so I expect tonight that he will stick with the conservative formation of three centre-halves, two wing-backs and two holding midfielders that has served him well.

At the end of the match against Wales on Tuesday night, he had his ‘flair’ players on the pitch, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish.

Will they start tonight? Don’t think so. Gareth will stay with his trusted team to get the job done, even if that is via just one goal from a set piece.

Even without Mane, Senegal should not be underestimated – and Gareth will not make that mistake.

I was impressed by Ecuador in their first two matches at this World Cup, I thought they might be South America’s ‘springers’ in the tournament.

And yet Senegal beat them when it mattered in the last round of games to go through.

Regular readers will know how much I admire Chelsea defender Kalidou Kouibaly, Senegal’s centre-half, captain – and now their real leader.

He stepped up to the plate against Ecuador, coming forward to score the winning goal.

They have another Chelsea player in goalkeeper Edouard Mendy and there’s also Ismaila Sarr of Watford.

Other members of the Senegalese squad are dotted all across top European clubs such as AC Milan, Torino, Villarreal and Marseille – so they are well experienced in European-style football.

Harry Kane (right) and Bukayo Saka are just two of England's attacking threat. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire.© PA

But, to me, England still have too much class and power, and a strong bench in their midfield and attack, not to get the job done tonight.

Between them, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane will do the business for England, with Grealish and Foden, especially the latter as he’s a player I rate so highly, as the help to be sprung from the bench.

It would be a massive shock, in a World Cup of shocks, if England didn’t win.

I had Belgium as my outsiders for the World Cup, but they paid the penalty for relying on two players, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, who were clearly not match-fit.

If the big striker Lukaku had been fully fit, he would have buried all three of the great chances that came his way in Belgium’s decisive match against Croatia.

Same for Wales, where Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen were nowhere near their top level in their displays in Qatar.

It’s a terrible thing to be in the position those players were in.

Do you travel, when not 100pc right?

Sadio Mane's absence from the World Cup is a big blow to Senegal's hopes. Photo: Harry Langer/DeFodi Images via Getty Images© DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Or do you do what Mane and Karim Benzema did and say, “I’m not fit, bring someone who is fit with the squad.” For me, a Bale or a Lukaku has to go to the World Cup.

It’s once every four years, or four and a half years in this case. You’ve got to give it a go.

After all the chance to go to a World Cup Finals may only come up once in a player’s career.

If you are a top German player the chance to go, and then shine, should come up every four years.

They were very poor this year, even if in Jamal Musiala they had a superb teenage talent who might figure in many Teams of the Tournament.

Germany will rebuild and they will be back, stronger than ever, as hosts of Euro 2024.

They will be looking to find a couple of new defenders, a striker and perhaps Marc-André ter Stegen of Barcelona will take over from Manuel Neuer in goal.

Germany have too, in the currently injured Florian Wirtz, another cracking young creative player to watch for.

They’ll be back!

Although Liverpool fans might have a little week or two of fretting over whether Hansi Flick keeps the manager’s job.

If he doesn’t, the man all German football fans will want to get the job is a certain Jurgen Klopp.

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