DOMINIC KING: Bellingham rose with one of England’s great individual World Cup displays

The World Cup where the defining images and memories of England players are formed, the snapshots that capture a moment in time.

So let this be said now: in years to come you will have no trouble remembering the moment Jude Bellingham took possession in his own half against Senegal and ran 40 yards with the pace, power, ferocity and skill that made you think of Jonah Lomu on his way to the corner past unhappy defenders.

It was beautifully brutal, devastating and balletic in equal measure. But the aspect that made it all was the perfectly weighted through ball that allowed Phil Foden to slot Harry Kane into the goal that effectively propelled England into the World Cup quarter-finals.

Jude Bellingham performed well beyond his years as he dominated midfield

The finish was sumptuous, but the run was incredible. Here was the kind of clip TV directors would want to edit with Nobby Stiles dancing in 1966, Paul Gasoigne sobbing in 1990, Michael Owen slaloming in 1998 and Gareth Southgate roaring in 2018.

It’s only when you stand next to Bellingham that you appreciate his size. He is 6ft 3in with shoulders built to carry heavy loads and that is exactly what he did during the opening 45 minutes as England’s players were asked questions they would never normally be asked.

Senegal were eventually beaten comfortably, but the opening half hour in particular was fascinating. Africa’s finest team was well drilled, tactically smart and looked better on the ball. They should also have been in front when Boulaye Dia spotted Jordan Pickford’s goal.

Many England players were nervous as they tried to harness their nerves and adrenaline: Kyle Walker made uncharacteristic mis-choices with his passing, Bukayo Saka didn’t know whether to stick or twist as he galloped forward, Harry Maguire’s touch betrayed him at times.

The 19-year-old set up Jordan Henderson's opener and played a key role in the other two goals

The 19-year-old set up Jordan Henderson’s opener and played a key role in the other two goals

Through it all, however, Bellingham and engine room colleagues Jordan Henderson and Declan Rice hunted together, refusing to let Senegal get on top. Bellingham in particular was notable and a small moment in the 15th minute caught the eye.

With England’s fans silent and the relentless rattle of the Senegalese drums making it feel more Dakar than Doha, Bellingham drove forward, won a corner and then immediately started waving his arms, looking at the crowd with a scowl that demanded they should raise the game.

This young boy is different from other 19-year-olds. There will be points in the future when form fluctuates, as is the case with everyone, but right now he is playing a game that makes you think of Owen, Wayne Rooney or Steven Gerrard when they were the same age.

The stage, the setting, the opponents: none of it bothered them. That trio knew they could go on and dominate and that’s exactly what Bellingham did, the half-time charge crowning his performance.

Bellingham surely holds the keys to England's chances against reigning world champions France on Saturday

Bellingham surely holds the keys to England’s chances against reigning world champions France on Saturday

“He’s going to be a superstar that lad,” Roy Keane said on ITV. “He plays like he has played 100 times for England.”

Keane is not known to sprinkle his compliments like confetti, so to be prepared to commit to that kind of statement should give you an idea of ​​the realms he can enter. When he listens to what people who work with him says, Bellingham is only going to improve because he wants to learn.

He has bonded with Henderson, who has played a key role over the past 18 months in helping a teenager settle into an environment that could have been intimidating. Liverpool’s captain, like Keane, won’t waste a tribute if he doesn’t think it’s deserved, but holds Bellingham in the highest regard.

However, the feeling is mutual. Henderson will never win a popularity contest in the stands, but his value to this squad and the importance he adds to playing for England can be illustrated in this little story from September.

At the time, he had badly injured his hamstring and had not played for Liverpool for three weeks. Initially, it was thought that he had no chance of being involved in the Nations League games against Italy and Germany, but he worked around the clock to regain his form.

Bukayo Saka was recalled to the starting XI after being rested by Gareth Southgate against Wales

Aware that this was his only opportunity to be around St George’s Park before Gareth Southgate named his squad, he spoke to his head coach and club boss Jurgen Klopp and asked if he could train even if he hadn’t played for Liverpool.

Klopp was only too happy for him to go away, Southgate was just as happy to have him around. There was never any doubt that he would not be included in the 26 and since his introduction against the USA, he has been one of England’s best performers.

Henderson started like an express train and it was fitting, if a little surprising, that it was he who opened the deadlock in the 39th minute, arriving to finish off a perfect cross. The man who delivered it? Bellingham. He – and we – will remember this performance for a long, long time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *