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Jordan Henderson is harnessing the pain of England’s near misses in their winter quest for glory in Qatar, where the vice-captain’s sole focus is on Senegal rather than a potential clash with World Cup holders France.
Gareth Southgate’s men won Group B in Qatar, where the superb 6-2 shellacking of Iran and 3-0 win against neighbours Wales bookended the 0-0 stalemate with the United States.
The reward is Sunday’s last-16 clash with Africa Cup of Nations champions Senegal at Al Bayt Stadium, where England hope to return for both the quarter-finals and semi-finals.
Many fans are already looking ahead to a last-eight date with France given they are expected to progress past Poland, but there is no chance of the team thinking like that.
“Well, I don’t think that will be a danger for us as a team because we know any World Cup game, whether group stage, qualifiers, knockout stages like we are in now, it will be really tough,” Henderson said.
“Different challenges, different players, it always will be really, really tough, especially against a team who are African champions and a very, very good team in their own right.
“Yes, we can say they’re missing Sadio Mane, who is a huge player for them and an amazing player for any team, really.
“But they’ve got into the knockout stages without him, and they will be feeling confident, feeling good and they are used to winning, so they will be a really, really dangerous side for us to play.
“If we want to progress we need to be at 100 per cent, like we were the other night and give absolutely everything and be really good with the ball but also really good without the ball.
“And, if we are, and the energy and intensity levels are right then we have a good chance of winning.”
It is not the first time that a quarter-final clash with France has been on the cards, but England’s humiliating last-16 exit to Iceland prevented that happening at Euro 2016.
“Honestly, I don’t want to sound boring but I don’t care who we could get or what we could get in the quarter-final,” Henderson, who was an unused substitute in the Iceland loss, said.
“It’s all about Senegal, it’s all about round of 16 and hopefully we’re still here next week and hopefully we can talk about the next round. But, until then, 100 per cent focused on Senegal.”
Henderson knows the high and lows of playing for England better than most given this is his sixth major tournament.
Part of the squad that crashed out in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, the Liverpool captain was also part of the run to the semi-finals in Russia four years later and last year’s European Championship runners-up finish.
It feels like England are edging closer to glory after those near misses, leading to a comparison to the way Liverpool grew into winners under Jurgen Klopp after coming up just short.
“I suppose you could see similarities in terms of getting so close and just failing at the last bit until we ended up winning,” he said.
“I don’t like to make comparisons with other teams, and especially club football.
“But I do feel like when you go through experiences together, especially good ones but at the end not what you wanted and they can really hurt, and we have suffered a little bit of that over the last few tournaments, for sure, and that can make you really stronger as a team.
“It makes you come closer together and want to put things right.”
Those shared experiences make Henderson feel like this group is closer than any previous England squad he has been a part of and makes him all the more determined to put things right.
“For me personally I feel as though defeats always stay,” he added. “I can always remember the defeats more than the wins. The defeats hurt the most.
“They’re the ones that stick with us, me personally, a lot. I suppose that’s the part where you want to change and put it right, really, but you never get rid of that feeling.
“That’s happened at Liverpool and also England now, so that desire is always in us to try and win.
“That’s what my motivation always is when I’m on the pitch or in training. I always want to win all the time and it’s no different when I’m at England.”