World Cup 2022 – The child prodigy from Birmingham

Marcus Rashford was not in the mood for restraint. England had just defeated Wales 3-0, Rashford’s two goals laid the foundation for England’s entry into the round of 16. Standing with the vase-shaped trophy given to every man of the match in Qatar, he was asked who else deserved the award. “Jude Bellingham,” he said. “I think in two or three years there will be no doubt that he is the best midfielder in the world.”

Bellingham has finally played his way into the ranks of the superstars at this World Cup. What he has been showing for Borussia Dortmund for the past two years can be seen by the whole world in Qatar. The 19-year-old organizes the game, is – as not only his goal in the opening game against Iran proved – a goal threat and despite his age already a leading player. If Senegal wants to have a chance against the English in the round of 16 (Sunday, 8 p.m. / ORF 1), they have to stop Bellingham’s influence on the game. It might be too much pressure for a normal teenager, but if Bellingham has proven anything in his career, it’s that he’s just not quite normal.

An icon at 17

Birmingham City FC noticed that very early on. The club in England’s second largest city trained Bellingham. He first played in the U18s at the age of 14, a year later in the U23s, and 38 days after his 16th birthday he made his senior debut for the second division club. The “Birmingham Mail” wrote afterwards: “He felt at home. Despite his age, he radiates calm on the ball and keeps the ball impressively close to his foot.” A year later, in June 2020, Bellingham left England and moved to Dortmund for 26 million euros. Despite only playing one year for Birmingham City’s squad, the club decided not to use Bellingham’s shirt number, 22, again. “In a remarkably short time, Jude has become an icon that has shown what can be achieved with talent, hard work and dedication,” the club wrote in a statement.

It wasn’t long before Bellingham made his mark. He scored his first goal in his first competitive game and wore the captain’s armband for the first time last October after Mats Hummels and Marco Reus were out. In between, in November 2020, he made his debut in team kit and was the third youngest debutant in the history of the association after Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney. He was still a reserve player at last year’s European Championships, but now he’s an established part of England’s young guns.

They play key roles on offense. Bellingham is the second youngest goalscorer at the World Cup at the time of writing, Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka is third in the rankings at 21 and Manchester City’s Phil Foden, 22, is tenth. Rashford, who is England’s top scorer with three goals in the tournament, is almost a veteran in Gareth Southgate’s team, although he too only turned 25 at the end of October.

You already know the stars

With the exception of Bellingham, they all play in the Premier League. It’s probably in the nature of modern football that no one unexpectedly steps into the limelight at a World Cup – the big clubs have usually secured the services beforehand. The youngest goalscorer in the World Cup, the Spaniard Gavi (18), is under contract with FC Barcelona until 2026, while his compatriot and teammate Ferran Torres (22), who has already scored two goals in the tournament, has a year longer. Argentina’s Julian Alvarez (22) moved to Manchester City in the summer, while Brazilian Vinicus Junior (22) has been part of Real Madrid’s inventory for years.

England’s youngsters meet a Senegalese side with experience, the stars Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy are already in their thirties. This also applies to Bayern striker Sadio Mane, who coach Aliou Cisse has to continue to pretend because of an inflamed fibula head. He is missing for the team that missed some good chances in the group stage.

The English, however, should be warned: in 2022, Senegal have not lost a game they couldn’t lose. The team won the Africa Cup of Nations in February and qualified for the World Cup in March, beating Egypt over two legs. The performance in the decisive group match against Ecuador was also the best of the tournament so far.

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