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Jude Bellingham evokes Paul Gascoigne for England vs. Iran to prove he can be missing piece at World Cup 2022

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Speaking to BBC Sport prior to England’s 2022 World Cup opener against Iran, it was put to Jude Bellingham that he was yet to score an international goal.

The 19-year-old midfielder has become an increasingly dominant force for Borussia Dortmund, scoring 10 goals in 22 games this season, a tally that includes four in five Champions League outings.

“Maybe I’m saving it,” he joked after being asked when he would bring this thirst for the big occasion to bear for the Three Lions.

In the 35th minute of what had been a stop-start encounter at Khalifa International Stadium, Bellingham made his grin look like an incredibly knowing one as he timed a run into the penalty area to perfection and headed home Luke Shaw’s cross.

MORE: Saka and Bellingham star in World Cup opener as England hit Iran for six

There is a fairly familiar look to England’s squad in their third tournament under Gareth Southgate. The manager has understandably stuck with the core of players who helped the country to within a couple of penalty kicks of glory in the Euro 2020 final.

Bellingham was part of the England party that plotted a path to Wembley last year, making a trio of substitute appearances as a 17-year-old. Now, after opening the scoring and dominating in a 6-2 win over a beleaguered Iran, there can be no doubt that the teenager’s days as a bit-part player for his country are over for good.

England under Southgate have generally succeeded despite and not because of their midfield. In that area of the pitch, the manager has put together functional combinations to serve the overall gameplan as opposed to making it the hub.

At the 2018 World Cup, there wasn’t really a conventional central midfield to speak of. Jordan Henderson was nominally the lone holder in front of three centre-backs, while Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard jackhammered forward to support both the team’s wingbacks and Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling in attack.

Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips formed a more conventional two-man shield in front of the defence at Euro 2020, but their focus was on little more than structure and foundations. 

Southgate’s record speaks for itself, with a semifinal followed by a final, but when England finally ran into sides boasting superior midfield guile, whether that was Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic for Croatia in the 2018 Moscow semi or a Marco Verratti-inspired Italy at Wembley, they were left chasing shadows and dreams slipped away.

Bellingham got a little taste of this treatment when an experimental and disjointed England side were beaten 1-0 by the Azzurri in the Nations League in September. But in the fluent 4-3-3 that Southgate fielded against Iran, with fullbacks Shaw and Kieran Trippier providing incisive natural width and Mason Mount bursting into pockets of space to knit attacks together, it is hard to imagine any opponents relishing an argument with the former Birmingham youngster.

MORE: England World Cup squad 2022: Final 26 players for Three Lions’ national football team roster in Qatar

How old is Jude Bellingham?

During the early stages against Iran, Bellingham took a heavy touch or two and was a little erratic. Ever so briefly, he looked like a 19-year-old playing in his first World Cup match. Then Super Jude took over.

England has an obsession with domineering box-to-box midfielders. Bryan Robson and Steven Gerrard were much-loved captains for club and country with good reason. They conformed to an archetype of part footballer, part comic-book hero.

Bellingham has now placed himself in that lineage by arriving in the box to score the first goal of an England World Cup campaign, just like Robson against France in 1982 and Gerrard versus the United States in 2010.

A player boasting imposing physical gifts and palpable confidence thrives in such high-octane moments but Bellingham also has the technical quality and poise to make a difference by slowing the pace and dictating it. This is truly what England have missed and where he can be their point of difference.

Escaping the goldfish bowl that instantly encases the best teenage stars in England has been invaluable. At Dortmund, Bellingham has learned in a different football culture while still malleable. After those nervy initial moments against Iran, he never played like a man in a rush, knowing the play would come to him in various situations and he would know how to shape it each time.

MORE: England’s biggest World Cup wins: Where does 6-2 Iran thrashing rank in the all-time list?

Jude Bellingham: Next Steven Gerrard or new Paul Gascoigne?

Just after his goal, when it would have been forgivable for a youngster in his position to go chasing more glory, Bellingham darted back to the edge of his own D to take possession from Jordan Pickford and ping a quick pass to Harry Maguire. In an instant, England were through the Iran press and Bellingham was galloping forward. From the resulting corner, Saka scored the first of his two goals.

Number three also had Bellingham’s prints all over it as he picked up the pieces after Saka was brought to ground, gliding through the traffic and feeding Kane, who crossed for Sterling to volley home.

For all their magnificent career achievements, Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes never dominated an England World Cup game from midfield to the extent Bellingham did in Al Rayyan. 

His intuitive feel for everything that was required sent memories scrambling back a little further, to when Paul Gascoigne bent the big moments in Italia ’90 to his will.

During the first half, he completed all 40 of his attempted passes. He saved his pass for the dying minutes of the second, with a first-time throughball on his weaker left foot releasing Callum Wilson to set up fellow substitute Jack Grealish. It was a supreme final flourish.

Even if an Iran side ranked 20th in the world by FIFA being torn to pieces deserves due credit, England will have tougher tests to negotiate at this World Cup. This time they might have a better chance of tackling them as Bellingham shifts the midfield gears from functional to phenomenal.


Credit: sportingnews.com

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