JUDE BELLINGHAM is having an impact on this World Cup which surpasses even Paul Gascoigne’s breakthrough campaign at Italia 90.
This lanky Brummie teenager is four years younger than Gazza had been during that golden summer, where he dribbled and sobbed his way into the nation’s affections.
Jordan Henderson’s strike gave England the leadCredit: Reuters
Captain Harry Kane fired home England’s second shortly before the breakCredit: Alamy
Bukayo Saka made it three in the second half with a lovely finishCredit: Getty
Jude Bellingham produced a remarkable midfield displayCredit: PA
Gareth Southgate watched his side breeze into the quarter-finalsCredit: Reuters
England dominated the last-16 clash to beat Senegal with relative ease
But Gascoigne never stamped his authority on World Cup matches like this kid does.
After Bellingham had laid on England’s opener for Jordan Henderson, with a visionary cut-back at full gallop, there was a moment when the 19-year-old’s maturity shone through.
Harry Kane – who has played an excellent supporting role at this tournament but had not scored any of England’s first ten goals – skied a decent chance from a Bukayo Saka cross and slumped in frustration.
Bellingham lifted his captain back to his feet, gave him a gee-up.
And soon after, on the stroke of half-time, Kane lashed home England’s second after another telling burst from the Borussia Dortmund midfielder.
That was a moment of pure relief for Kane and for Gareth Southgate.
Pretty much the only ingredient missing from England’s campaign had been a goal for a skipper, who – incorrectly – never feels as if he is doing his job fully unless he is filling onion bags.
And so England had repeated their happy knack of scoring in bursts here in Qatar.
Senegal could not cope with England after a cagey opening 30 minutes
Bellingham was magnificent once again for England
Like a boxer delivering a flurry of punches, they have the killer instinct to finish off opponents as soon as they land the first telling blow.
Three in six minutes against Iran, two in two against Wales, two in seven here to floor the champions of Africa.
Then, early in the second half, a third from Saka which snuffed out comeback hopes.
Of course the standard of opposition is going to crank up a serious notch when England face France, and Golden boot leader Kylian Mbappe, in the quarter-final.
But now a nation where nothing works, where everyone is on strike, where harsh winter weather is gripping and fuel bills are crippling, can at least look forward to a World Cup quarter-final against the world champions on a Saturday night.
And however good Mbappe is, and however experienced France are, England have a real chance.
Because, once Southgate’s team have imposed their game on an opposition during this tournament, they have possessed a bloodlust we have rarely associated with our national football team.
And they even managed to do it playing live on the cursed ITV.
At the centre of it all is Bellingham – outstanding in each of England’s three victories here – heading the opening goal of the campaign and showing a supreme conviction, in and out of possession, which makes a mockery of the date on his birth certificate.
He wasn’t even born when Wayne Rooney made his England debut – does he even know how old that makes so many of us feel?
What talent, and what a temperament, Bellingham has.
He had been the only Englishman who seemed to turn up for the first 38 minutes of this last-16 clash – then he played a major role in winning it by half-time.
It was England’s biggest World Cup knockout win since 2002Credit: EPA
Bellingham’s superb cutback set up the opening goalCredit: Reuters
Henderson and Bellingham squared up to one another in a hilarious celebrationCredit: Reuters
Declan Rice protected the back four superbly for England
Again, Southgate made a bold call when he left out Marcus Rashford, the two-goal hero against Wales.
While Raheem Sterling’s unavailability, due to a family issue, made the selection of widemen less convoluted, this was still bold.
Saka returned, though, and scored the third from a Phil Foden assist, so nobody could complain.
It was a slow start from England. Slow, that was, except for Bellingham.
Thrust forward into the No 10 role since the Wales game, he was thriving there, winning tackle after tackle and even performing a cheerleading routine in an attempt to get England’s supporters heard above the rhythmic Senegalese drumming that provided the soundtrack.
Midway through the half, there was serious alarm for England when Harry Maguire passed straight to Krepin Diatta, who centred for Ismaila Sarr to sky a close-range shot and John Stones survived a VAR review for handball.
There was an anxiety about England’s defence which we hadn’t seen in the group stage – pressed aggressively by Senegal, their passing was loose.
They looked like four men waiting around for something terrible to happen.
And it almost did when Saka gifted possession to Sarr, who fed Dia for a shot which Pickford saved instinctively.
Southgate had been demanding England show respect to their opposition but not this much.
Kane got off the mark at the tournament and took his World Cup tally to sevenCredit: Getty
Harry Maguire continued his fine form for England
And then, out of nowhere, England scored a goal which was sweet and self-assured.
There was a flick from Foden, a pass from Kane, a burst of speed from Bellingham, whose cutback on the run, which showcased his peripheral vision and masterful technique, allowing Henderson to slot home first-time, left-footed.
It was only the Liverpool captain’s third goal in 73 internationals but you wouldn’t have guessed it – this was a striker’s finish.
Henderson pointed markedly at Bellingham as he celebrated. They all know this 19-year-old is the one.
Almost immediately came Kane’s miss, and Bellingham’s pick-me-up.
And then, in the last action of the half, Bellingham made a headed interception, surged forward and fed Foden who slipped one square to Kane.
The Tottenham man took one touch then leathered it past Edouard Mendy to move to 52 England goals – one behind Rooney.
Senegal, superior for much of the first half, looked devastated.
Before the hour it was three – Kane feeding Foden, who centred for Saka to score with a neat flick of the boot.
And that was it, job done – subs came on, Southgate conserved energy levels and England managed out the game.
On Saturday, we will discover whether the champions of the world are any better.
England march on to the quarter-finals where they will meet FranceCredit: Getty