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World Cup: England's route to the final

England's 3-0 win over Senegal on Sunday has moved them into the quarter-finals but tough tests lie ahead if Gareth Southgate’s men are to go all the way in Qatar.

A nervy first half-hour notwithstanding, England put in a largely assured performance against the African champions at the Al Bayt Stadium to progress into the last eight of the World Cup, buoyed by goals from Jordan Henderson, Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka.

Nervy start gives way to polished performance

The Lions of Teranga emerged battle-hardened from Group A, having held off the Netherlands for 84 minutes before rallying against Qatar and edging out Ecuador in a qualification decider.

And the opening salvos in the last-16 clash suggested Aliou Cisse might have figured out a plan to stifle the Three Lions’ class, which looked markedly absent until Henderson’s third goal for his country broke the deadlock, the Liverpool midfielder latching onto the end of Jude Bellingham’s cute cutback from the left flank.

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England struck again through Kane right on the cusp of the break, the 2018 Golden Boot winner getting himself off the mark for the competition, with Saka crowning the affair with his third strike in three games from a Phil Foden cross just before the hour mark.

But while beating the world’s 18th-ranked national team is one thing, taking on the world champions is quite another - and that’s exactly the challenge that awaits Southgate and his charges in the quarter-finals on Saturday evening.

Formidable French up next

A few hours before England’s victory, France - second-favourites to take top honours at 9/2 - took to the field at Al Thumama Stadium against Poland, who failed to take advantage of a lacklustre Les Bleus start before Olivier Giroud punished them with the opener right before the interval, surpassing Thierry Henry to become his country’s all-time leading goalscorer in the process.

Kylian Mbappe added a second-half brace before Robert Lewandowski earned a reprieve from a would-be second penalty miss in Qatar, slotting home a retake after Hugo Lloris was adjudged to have left his line prematurely when saving his initial stoppage-time effort.

Didier Deschamps’ unit have been tipped to become just the third team to retain the World Cup after Brazil and Italy - and England will be well aware that any sub-par performance against their European counterparts is likely to be exploited.

Mbappe’s five goals so far have been central to France’s threat, but evergreen Giroud has also been there to chip in; it’s fair to say Les Bleus looked every inch the contenders going forward against Poland, Australia and Denmark - at least after half time.

But England can take solace in the fact that France’s starts against the trio - and their entire performance against Tunisia - have exposed chinks in their armour and getting out of the blocks quickly could be the secret to getting the better of their old foe.

The trouble is that the Three Lions’ starts against the USA, Wales and Senegal have been of the sluggish variety, meaning Kane and co will likely have to dig in to gain the upperhand.

All-European semi-final the fancied pick

Should England beat the 2018 winners and reach a third consecutive major tournament semi-final, a duel with either Morocco, Spain, Switzerland or Portugal awaits.

At 8/1 to win a second World Cup, Luis Enrique’s La Roja are the most-fancied outfit in that corner of the draw and, if the tournament tree plays out as expected, will take on Portugal in the last eight after respective wins over the Atlas Lions and the Swiss.

Spain have not lost any of their last seven games against their neighbours to the west, with the pair sharing the spoils in a thrilling 3-3 group-stage draw in Russia four years ago.

And in terms of England’s past dealings with the pair at major tournaments, a battle with the Spaniards happens to be preferential. Those born before 1990 will likely hold fond memories of the last such encounter: the Euro 1996 hosts’ quarter-final win on penalties.

In fact, the 1950 World Cup was the last time England fell to Spanish opposition at a major event - a 1-0 group defeat at the Maracana.

But clashes with Portugal have brought about a different result. England may find themselves trying to channel the spirit of 1966 should Cristiano Ronaldo and his team-mates run into them in the last four; not since the famous semi-final victory in the glory days of Geoff Hurst and Bobby Moore have the Three Lions bested the Portuguese at a major tournament.

Meetings in 1986, 2000 and two quarter-finals in 2004 and 2006 have all gone the way of the Selecao das Quinas, who can be backed at 5/1 to reach a first World Cup final.

The final hurdle

Outlasting France and Spain or Portugal - or, of course, a surprise package in the form of Morocco or Switzerland - would put England within touching distance of the top prize, which begs the question: who could they face?

The answer to that question is lengthy. As of Monday morning, six teams remain in the other side of the draw, with Brazil and Argentina the main favourites to go the distance mixed in with the Netherlands, Japan, Croatia and South Korea.

Brazil lead the event’s outright betting at 5/2, with a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina, already through to the quarters to face the Netherlands, at a third-best 11/2.

So, two early favourites could lie in store - and of the other four contenders, two have made appearances in finals and one the semi-finals. In short, England, or whoever makes the final from their half of the tournament tree, are set to face formidable opposition.

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