Who: England vs Senegal
Where: Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
When: December 4, 10pm (19:00 GMT)
The prospect of Harry Kane not scoring in any of England’s group games at the World Cup might have left fans fearing the worst but instead, there is a growing sense of optimism as Gareth Southgate’s side eyes Sunday’s last-16 clash with Senegal.
Kane, whose 51 goals for his country puts him only two behind record holder Wayne Rooney, has yet to fully hit his straps in Qatar, barely having a shot on target.
A foot knock sustained in the opening win against Iran has not helped the England skipper, who top-scored in the 2018 World Cup with six, but his lack of goals has certainly not impeded England’s smooth progress to the knockout rounds.
In fact, Kane’s failure to hit the net can be flipped to a positive.
England have still managed to score a tournament-coleading nine goals with their other forwards stepping up to the mark, none more so than Manchester United’s rejuvenated Marcus Rashford with three goals already.
Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka have also been among the goals, leaving Southgate a pleasant selection dilemma ahead of Senegal, although it is inconceivable he would not start with Kane in his forward three.
Compared with the white-knuckle rides experienced by some of the other favourites here, England sauntered through their group. But now, says Southgate, the serious business begins.
Senegal were crowned African champions earlier this year, and although they are playing in the World Cup without injured talisman Sadio Mane, the Lions of Teranga are a powerful side packed with experience and devoted to coach Aliou Cisse.
Senegal reached the World Cup knockout stages for only the second time after a dramatic 2-1 win against Ecuador secured the runners-up spot in Group A.
England are favoured to progress to the quarter-finals, but Senegal assistant coach Regis Bogaert believes other surprise results at this year’s World Cup can inspire his team.
“The message is a strong one,” he said. “We’ve seen Cameroon beat Brazil and Tunisia beat France, so we know Senegal can beat England. That’s what we’re aiming for. That’s an important message.”
If Senegal are to pull off the shock, they might have to do it without their inspirational leader and coach Aliou Cisse, who has been sidelined with an illness.
Adding to the challenge, the African champions will definitely be without their midfield general Idrissa Gueye, who is suspended for the match having picked up a second yellow card against Ecuador in their final group match.