In Focus: Brilliant Bellingham has the world at his feet
Jude Bellingham continued his rise to superstardom by playing a talismanic role in England’s 3-0 World Cup last-16 victory over Senegal.
Goals from Jordan Henderson, Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka ensured the Three Lions reached the quarter-finals in impressive style in Qatar — but it was their 19-year-old midfielder who once again grabbed most of the plaudits.
As he prepares to test himself against world champions France in the last eight on Saturday, we ponder just how far the Borussia Dortmund talent can go.
Having starred in group games against Iran and Wales, it was no surprise to see Bellingham once again handed a starting berth in midfield against the African champions.
But the clash at Al Bayt Stadium saw the youngster scale even greater heights.
Despite a nervy opening, the Stourbridge native did not shy away and was soon racing through on the left to tee up Henderson's crucial opening goal.
Moments later, he latched on to a loose ball on the edge of England’s box before driving past a handful of Senegal players and releasing Phil Foden, who slotted in Kane to make it two just before the break.
It was yet another remarkable performance from Bellingham, who showed maturity beyond his tender years with a true leader’s performance.
While his contribution to the goals caught the eye the most, creativity was not the only area in which the Three Lions man impressed.
The No22 shirt he sports for his country is not just a number plucked out of thin air — he has also donned it domestically for Dortmund and with boyhood club Birmingham.
He arrived at that number in his youth football days, supposedly due to possessing the qualities of a No4, No8 and a No10 in midfield.
That was clear to see last night, with Bellingham making as much of a difference in the defensive sphere as he did in attack.
He won all four of his tackles, made two interceptions and won possession back twice in the attacking third — the most of any England player for all three metrics.
Combine that with his assist, three take-ons and the seven final third passes he completed and it was a performance that left former England international Gary Neville purring.
The popular pundit told ITV: "It's very rare you see a midfield player as comfortable in his own half as in the attacking half. He looks like he can do absolutely everything.
"Is he a holding player, an attacking player? He's everything in one. He's fantastic, [and] so young, but it's the composure, maturity and fearlessness I can't get my head around.
"I watched players play for England for many years, the weight of the shirt was enormous. He just doesn't feel it at all, he looks like he belongs out there, like he wants it and needs it in his life."
Giants queuing up
While England's pursuit of World Cup glory for the first time since 1966 will be at the forefront of his mind, Bellingham's exploits in Qatar will only intensify the battle to win his signature at club level.
Dortmund has been the perfect place to continue his development since moving there at the age of 17 in 2020. But like many BVB starlets before him, it seems only a matter of time before he moves on to bigger things.
Premier League rivals Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United are all reportedly ready to move heaven and earth to strike a deal.
But with Spanish and European champions Real Madrid supposedly convinced they can lure him to LaLiga, an imminent return to England is far from a formality.
With a price tag in excess £100million already quoted before the World Cup, it is sure to be an expensive deal for any club to pull off.
Sky's the limit
Wherever Bellingham ends up, it seems nothing stands in his way on his rise to the top of the game.
Fellow Three Lions starlet Foden, 22, is a supreme talent himself but believes his international team-mate has all the tools to become the world’s best midfielder.
Speaking after the win over Senegal, the Manchester City ace said: "I don't want to big him up too much because he's still young. But he's one of the most gifted players I've ever seen.
"I don't see a weakness in his game. I think he's got everything. I'm sure he's going to be the best midfielder in the world."
While a World Cup quarter-final clash with world champions France is perhaps the biggest test of Bellingham’s short career to date, do not bet against him taking the pressure in his stride and propelling his country to success once again.