How England perfected the art of the counter-attack to blow Senegal away

How England perfected the art of the counter-attack to blow Senegal away - Giuseppe Cacace/Getty Images
How England perfected the art of the counter-attack to blow Senegal away - Giuseppe Cacace/Getty Images

England beat Senegal 3-0 on Sunday night to reach the quarter-finals at the Qatar World Cup. Despite the scoreline, Gareth Southgate's side were made to work for their win which sparked into life with two quickfire first-half goals. Both were scored on the counter-attack, both executed with precision.

1-0: Jordan Henderson, 38min

Build-up

It took a flick of Phil Foden’s heel to open up Senegal’s defence. Up to that point, it had been 38 minutes of failing to break down the African champions by passing patiently. With the ball passed down the left flank by Luke Shaw, it needed the improvisation of Foden to start the counter-attack. Taking a chance, he found Harry Kane in his withdrawn role to set up an attack. It still need the England captain to pick out his pass and find Jude Bellingham with a positive pass when the easier option of returning the ball to Foden was available.

Final pass

Bellingham put together a box-to-box display that saw him have a huge hand in the two counter-attacks. He was sometimes in deep areas collecting the ball but when England countered, his legs were able to carry England forward towards goal. Without those runs beyond Kane, England would not have earned the lead. He broke forward, taking Kane’s pass in his stride and having the composure to find the right ball, a weighted pass rolled in the direction of Jordan Henderson, inviting him to score.

Finish

In his 73 caps for England it was only Henderson’s third goal. His international career has spanned 12 years but his first strike for his country came at the Euro last year. Yet he took his goal like a seasoned striker, steadying himself after running into the penalty area and placing his finish side-footed past Edouard Mendy, who may have felt disappointed at not getting his glove closer. It was his first goal in more than one year after netting against Everton on Dec 1 this time last season.

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Celebration

There was a meeting of England young and old when the creator and scorer of the opener embraced near the goalline. Bellingham planted his forehead on that of Henderson and held it there. It was as striking as his arms-out pose against Iran at Khalifa International Stadium in England’s opener of the tournament. Henderson had acknowledged the role of his team-mate when he finished, running straight to the teenager and pointing in his direction, making it perfectly clear who was responsible for creating the chance. The pair are at opposite ends of their careers but close off the pitch.

Jordan Henderson and Jude Bellingham - How England perfected the art of the counter-attack to blow Senegal away - Anne-Christine Poujoulat /Getty Images
Jordan Henderson and Jude Bellingham - How England perfected the art of the counter-attack to blow Senegal away - Anne-Christine Poujoulat /Getty Images
Jordan Henderson and Jude Bellingham - How England perfected the art of the counter-attack to blow Senegal away - Hassan Ammar/AP
Jordan Henderson and Jude Bellingham - How England perfected the art of the counter-attack to blow Senegal away - Hassan Ammar/AP

2-0: Kane, 45+3min

Build-up

It was all about Bellingham again, sensing there may be a chance of a turnover he closed down Nampalys Mendy when Senegal were loose with a pass. Despite being in a position of attacking, they had midfielders turning towards their own goal as Bellingham kept possession and moved through the gears in central midfield. There were still plenty of options and he needed to choose the right one, which was to send Foden away down the inside-right channel.

Final pass

Pep Guardiola has bemoaned Foden’s final pass this season, saying that he needs to understand that Manchester City now have Erling Haaland to finish off chances. He seems to have heeded the advice of his club manager as he chose the right option to send his team-mate through. With Kalidou Koulibaly as his the only covering defender for England’s swift counter, the Chelsea centre-back twisted towards Foden but the pass through to Kane meant he was turned inside out. England were through on goal with just the goalkeeper to beat.

Finish

Kane’s finish was that of a striker frustrated at drawing a blank in three Group B games. In particular, the miss against USA was hard to take, the last action of the game giving him no chance to make amends. When he was sent through this time he simply put his laces through the ball, smashing it low past Mendy with the Chelsea goalkeeper effectively getting out of the way as it crashed into the back of the net. It was a goal to kick-start Kane’s tournament like his strike against Germany at the Euros did.

Harry Kane - How England perfected the art of the counter-attack to blow Senegal away - Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Harry Kane - How England perfected the art of the counter-attack to blow Senegal away - Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Harry Kane - How England perfected the art of the counter-attack to blow Senegal away - Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Harry Kane - How England perfected the art of the counter-attack to blow Senegal away - Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Harry Kane and Phil Foden - How England perfected the art of the counter-attack to blow Senegal away - Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Harry Kane and Phil Foden - How England perfected the art of the counter-attack to blow Senegal away - Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Celebration

More traditional celebrations from Kane, a kiss of the wedding ring as he ran to the touchline. Foden joined in, running at his captain and pointing his fingers towards him like an Aussie Rules umpire signalling a goal. As team-mates jumped on Kane and Foden, they were celebrating executing two perfect counter-attacks, just at the right time when it looked like Senegal were threatening an opening goal.