In England’s first game of the 2022 World Cup, Iran did not deal with the energy and exuberance of England’s highly touted squad. That showed on Monday. Gareth Southgate’s men ran rampant through a helpless Iran defense.
The headline stars for England were the youth on the pitch making their World Cup debuts. Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka showed why they are among the hottest properties in world soccer.
Bellingham leads the England youth at the World Cup
Bellingham, who is still only 19, put England into an unassailable lead. More impressively, he showed a maturity beyond his teenage years. Simply put, his performance showed just why a host of leading European clubs are looking at him.
It should not be a surprise, either. Since making his debut at Birmingham City at 16, everyone tipped him for stardom. The anticipation doubled upon making a $35 million move to Borussia Dortmund within a year of his first professional game. Bellingham then developed into a physical force capable of scoring for Dortmund in the heart of its midfield. This season, he has nine goals in 22 games, despite playing a deep role.
His growing influence is such that he’s already been named as captain for his club in the UEFA Champions League. Reminder, he is still only 19.
His energy levels are infectious. He never stands still, and he drives his teammates forward. Bellingham’s touch and awareness with the ball belies his age. It is arguably more akin to someone who has at least 50 international caps to their name.
England have had a few players in the past who announced themselves to the world in the greatest competition on the planet with goals. 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, ‘told you so’.
After all, many believe that England can’t win the World Cup without Jude Bellingham.
Young Gunner firing 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 that of Bellingham, they share traits which stand them apart from many others their age. They are always willing to learn. Plus, each has a humility which improves their position as two of the brightest talents in the competition.
That almost analytical, yet hard working, nature is something that oozes from Saka. He is a star that overcame immeasurable disappointment just over a year ago. He failed for England at the final hurdle in the European Championship. Saka saw his penalty, England’s last chance to stay alive against Italy in Final, saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma. The save on Saka denied England a first major trophy since 1966.
Rather than wallow in self-pity, Saka knuckled down and worked hard on his game. Hid perseverance had him named England’s Player of the Year in 2021. On a more consistent basis, he is a key reason for Arsenal’s success this campaign. With the Gunners at the top of the league, the 21-year-old forward has four goals and six assists in 14 Premier League games.
Now, Saka has racked up over 100 appearances for Arsenal in all competitions. Also, he has 20 England caps to his name in the last two years. So, if his current form continues, he’ll become the hottest property in English soccer.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Pressinphoto
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