DOHA: John Stones has warned England to treat Senegal with respect in Sunday’s World Cup last-16 clash as Gareth Southgate’s side aim to avoid becoming the latest title contender to suffer a shock defeat.
Four-time winners Germany and second-ranked Belgium were dumped out at the group stage in Qatar while Argentina, France and Spain all suffered defeats in the first round.
With England tipped to beat Senegal at the Al Bayt Stadium this weekend, Manchester City centre-back Stones urged his teammates not to underestimate the Africa Cup of Nations holders.
“We’ve already seen big upsets. That’s why it’s the best tournament in the world,” Stones said on Friday.
“It’s always difficult when you see big teams or big players in teams that don’t have the success that you want or don’t live up to the expectation of the nation. We don’t ever want to fall into that category. You never want to take anything for granted. All we can affect is what we’re doing, what games we’re playing and giving it our all.”
The foundations of England’s bid for a first major trophy since 1966 have been laid by Stones and Harry Maguire at the heart of the defence.
Southgate’s team have kept two clean sheets in their first three games and Stones is delighted to see his long-time friend Maguire back on track after a long dip in form for Manchester United and England.
“From the first game he has given the best response. It’s great credit to him,” Stones said.
“Knowing what he’s been going through at his club — to come through that, it speaks volumes about him.
“Harry is one of the leaders. He’s a huge character within the group.”
Senegal were crowned African champions earlier this year and although they arrived in Qatar without their injured talisman Sadio Mane, the ‘Lions of Teranga’ are a powerful side packed with experience and devoted to coach Aliou Cisse.
African nations have lost eight of their nine World Cup knockout round games against European sides, although the one success came in 2002 when a Senegal side captained by Cisse beat Sweden to reach the quarter-finals.
Senegal burst into that tournament by defeating reigning champions France and the dreadlocked Cisse will no doubt be using the heroics of 20 years ago to inspire his team for their date with England.
If they are to produce another shock in a tournament that has already seen its fair share, Senegal will not only have to do it without Mane but also Idrissa Gueye, who is suspended having picked up a second yellow card against Ecuador.
While England will be expected to reach the quarter-finals, and a possible clash with France, Southgate knows that any World Cup journey has bumps in the road and Senegal will be treated with the utmost respect.
“Senegal will be tough,” he said. “They’re very well organised, they’ve got a lot of good individual players playing in big European leagues and their expectations now will rise.”
Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2022