There were so many good things to take out of England’s World Cup win over Senegal on Sunday, but none more impressive than the starring role played by Jude Bellingham.
We are truly blessed to have a 19-year-old who shows such maturity, aggression and leadership. He is setting a new standard and showing what is possible for young players.
The World Cup is about game-changing moments, and Bellingham produced two that gave England control of a last-16 match that they went on to win 3-0.
For the first, he surged into the Senegal penalty box and pulled the ball back perfectly into Jordan Henderson’s path to score the opening goal.
For the second, he won the ball, charged forward and played a left-footed pass to Phil Foden with such precision that he didn’t have to break stride before teeing up Harry Kane’s goal.
Bellingham has been freed up by Gareth Southgate’s selection of Jordan Henderson alongside him and Declan Rice in central midfield and it has worked so well that I think he has to stick with the trio for the quarter-final against holders France on Saturday.
Kylian Mbappe was Bellingham’s age when he helped France win the last World Cup and they share a rock-solid self-belief. Mbappe is more arrogant, as the best goalscorers are, but Bellingham also has personality and character.
He has a God-given talent but also wants to grab his moment on the big stage and that is so heartening for England.
With five goals already in Qatar, Mbappe is the biggest threat to England’s World Cup hopes. You can’t control every moment but Kyle Walker will have to try to force him down the line rather than let him come inside on his right foot, as he did so well against Poland in the last 16.
England will also have to shut down Antoine Griezmann, who brings a dash of magic in his new, deeper role. Still, man-to-man I think Bellingham, Henderson and Rice are more than a match for France’s midfield of Griezmann, Aurelien Tchouameni and Adrien Rabiot.
In fact, I think England’s squad is the best at this World Cup. Southgate has so many options because there are no duplicate players; everyone can do something slightly different. Most if not all have contributed to wins before, and that’s another big lift.
Luke Shaw’s form is another reason for optimism. The left-back has flown under the radar a little but is playing superbly, brings balance to the side and looks as fit as I’ve ever seen him.
And Southgate, too, has shown he has learned from past mistakes. With Senegal making it difficult for England to play through their high press, he made a vital tactical change by telling his team to go long – and it turned the game.
France move the ball quickly so we’ll have to do the same, and the teams are so good it will likely come down to moments of magic. Or errors, and I always think goalkeeper Hugo Lloris has a mistake in him.
I’m feeling good about the quarter-final, and if England pull it off I think they will lift the trophy. The belief will be off the charts if they win on Saturday and I think Bellingham and the rest of Southgate’s men would be unstoppable.
Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played at two World Cups and two European Championships. @TrevorSteven63.