EThere are several good reasons why you don’t have to like this World Cup in Qatar, but at least one reason why you can also like it with a clear conscience: because of the football fans who really decorate the game in the stadiums. On Sunday, among the 65,985 fans at Al Bayt Stadium, there were several groups from the Senegal.
They watched their national team play against England in the round of 16. Well, they didn’t just look. They drummed and danced, danced and drummed. So they gave the game, which wasn’t very exciting, its own sound. And some of them didn’t even stop at half-time.
They drummed and danced when Jordan Henderson scored the 1-0 for England in the 39th minute.
They drummed and danced when Harry Kane scored the 2-0 for England in the 45th minute.
They drummed and danced when Bukayo Saka made it 3-0 for England lap.
They drummed and danced when the referee blew the whistle.
So the game had a Senegalese sound, but from a sporting point of view an English touch. The English played like they usually do during these World Cup days: not dominant, but determined and precise in the decisive moments. It had to do with the individual skills of their soccer players. With centre-forward Harry Kane. With midfielder Jude Bellingham. And especially with Phil Foden.
There are some arguments with which Gareth Southgate, coach of the national team since September 2016, is regularly confronted by critics in his home country. In the first weeks of the World Cup it became less, but then they found an argument. They asked themselves: Why isn’t Foden, the most elegant English footballer, in the starting XI? In the first game against Iran (6:2) he was substituted on in the 70th minute. In the second against the United States (0-0) not at all because, according to his coach later, he didn’t fit into the match plan in the duel. In the third game against Wales (3-0), Southgate used the Manchester City attacker from the start. And it was worth it: he immediately scored a goal.
Southgate fielded Foden again on Sunday – and you could see in the important moments why that was the right decision. He made it 1-0 with an artful back-heel pass on the outside line. He didn’t play the ball like that because he could, but because he had to in the situation to speed up the play. After that, Kane played the ball with a smart pass to Bellingham – and Bellingham played it with an even smarter pass to Henderson, who put it in goal.
Foden made it 2-0 with a cross pass to Kane, who first had to get past Kalidou Koulibaly, Chelsea’s Senegalese centre-back. Foden then made it 3-0 with dribbling and a pass. In the middle, Saka just had to slide in. Southgate substituted him on a few minutes later. He probably wanted to spare him. For the quarterfinals against France on Saturday (8 p.m. in FAZ live ticker for the World Cup and at MagentaTV).
At least in the first half, the English were not as confident as it might sound. They were even lucky when both Boulaye Dia (blocked) and Ismaila Sarr (over the goal) failed to score in the 22nd minute after centre-back Harry Maguire missed a pass. A little later, England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford had to save with his hand, but perhaps a possible goal would not have counted because a Senegal player had probably guided the ball with his arm beforehand.
But then Henderson scored the first goal – and the opponent’s resistance was broken. Later in the second half, when the game was already decided, Southgate also substituted his regulars Bellingham and Henderson. The fans from England applauded. And of course the fans from Senegal drummed and danced.