In England’s first match at the 2022 World Cup, Iran failed to deal with the energy and exuberance of the much-touted England team. That was shown on Monday. Gareth Southgate’s men ran rampant through an defenseless defense of Iran.
England’s main stars were the youngsters on the pitch making their World Cup debut. Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka demonstrated why they are among the best properties in world soccer.
Bellingham leads England youth team at World Cup
Bellingham, still just 19 years old, put England into an unassailable lead. Even more impressive, he showed a maturity well beyond his teenage years. In a nutshell, his performance showed why a large number of leading European clubs are looking at him.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise either. Ever since he made his Birmingham City debut at the age of 16, everyone was pointing to him for stardom. The anticipation was doubled by making a $35 million move to Borussia Dortmund within a year of his first professional game. Bellingham then became a physical force capable of scoring for Dortmund in the heart of their midfield. This season he has nine goals in 22 games, despite playing a deep role.
His growing influence is such that he has already been named club captain in the UEFA Champions League. Reminder, he is still only 19 years old.
His energy levels are contagious. He never sits still and drives his teammates forward. Bellingham’s touch and awareness on the ball belies his age. Arguably, he is more akin to someone who has at least 50 caps to his name.
England have had a few players in the past announce themselves to the world in the biggest goalscoring competition on the planet. The performances set them up for future success. Even then, Bellingham’s progress is startling, deservedly turning heads. So when the final whistle blew in Qatar on Monday, anyone who had already seen him play said: ‘I told you so’.
After all, many believe that England cannot win the World Cup without Jude Bellingham.
Young Gunner shooting for England
A little further up the field for England, another youth star started this World Cup with a bang. That was the scorer of two of the six against Iran, Bukayo Saka. While his style is more flamboyant than Bellingham’s, they share traits that set them apart from many others his age. They are always willing to learn. Plus, each has a humility that enhances their standing as two of the competition’s brightest talents.
That almost analytical, yet hard-working nature is something that oozes from Saka. He is a star who overcame immeasurable disappointment a little over a year ago. She failed for England at the last hurdle of the European Championship. Saka saw his penalty, England’s last chance to stay alive against Italy in the final, saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma. Saka’s save denied England its first major trophy since 1966.
Rather than wallow in self-pity, Saka got down to business and worked hard on his game. Hidden perseverance led to his being named England’s Player of the Year in 2021. More consistently, he is a key reason for Arsenal’s success this campaign. With the Gunners at the top of the league, the 21-year-old striker has four goals and six assists in 14 Premier League games.
Now, Saka has amassed over 100 appearances for Arsenal in all competitions. Plus, he has 20 England caps to his name in the last two years. So if the current form of him continues, he will become the most popular property in English football.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Pressinphoto
World Cup 2022 Guide
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