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Nerves kick in for England fans ahead of crunch knockout tie with Senegal

England fans in the stands ahead of the FIFA World Cup Round of Sixteen match at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor (PA)
England fans in the stands ahead of the FIFA World Cup Round of Sixteen match at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor (PA)

England fans admitted nerves have started to kick in as they were greeted by a carnival atmosphere of dancing Senegalese fans ahead of their crunch World Cup knockout game.

Some predicted an “easy” win for the Three Lions in the round of 16 tie on Sunday, while others thought it would be a “tough” match.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said “hats off” to controversial host nation Qatar for running an “incredible World Cup so far”, adding: “The group stages will be remembered as one of the all-time greats.”

In a tweet before the game, Mr Sunak added: “Come on England keep the dream alive.”

There was a lively atmosphere outside the Al Bayt Stadium in the host nation’s capital city Doha, where England supporters were greeted by a vast Senegalese following – with many fans of the African nation drumming, dancing and waving flags.

The mood was friendly, with England fans joining them for photos and live music lining the long walk to the stadium.

Just minutes before the start of the game, hundreds of seats remained empty, but Senegal supporters were in fine voice.

England fan Karen Barham, 60, from Guildford, said she was “more nervous” about the Senegal tie than any other game for the Three Lions since she landed in Qatar for the start of the tournament.

England v Senegal – FIFA World Cup 2022 – Round of 16 – Al Bayt Stadium
Senegal fans outside the stadium ahead of kick off (Nick Potts/PA)

Speaking outside the stadium, the solicitor told the PA news agency: “I’m really nervous about this one – the Three Lions meet the Desert Lions, I don’t think this is a walk in the park.

“I think it’s going to be tough, I’m not nailed on for an England victory, I’m more nervous about this than since I’ve landed here.”

She added: “It’s do or die, isn’t it? You either do or you don’t. The Africa Cup of Nations champions, not to be underestimated, a refereeing decision that doesn’t go your way, a VAR, fine margins.

“I know lots of other people are hugely confident but I’m really, really nervous tonight.”

England v Senegal – FIFA World Cup 2022 – Round of 16 – Al Bayt Stadium
England fans in the stands ahead of the game (Martin Rickett/PA)

Ms Barham joked “three early goals” would settle her nerves, adding on the rest of the tournament: “I’m not saying there’s any pressure, boys, but my future happiness depends on what happens here tonight.”

Another England fan, Nolan Holleyman, 23, from Cambridge, said he was hoping the match would not be settled by a penalty shootout.

He told PA: “We haven’t been at our best but we’ve just got to keep playing, push through and hopefully get the result tonight.

“I’m hoping it’s not a penalty shootout.”

Mr Holleyman predicted a Marcus Rashford hat-trick in a 3-0 England win, describing it as a “no-brainer”.

Back in the UK, pubs and bars geared up for the game, with millions expected to watch on TV screens across the country.

Before kick off, England fans fell silent at The Eastney Tavern, Southsea, Hampshire, for the national anthem ahead of the start of the match.

Regular Joel said: “It should be a walk in the park tonight for England, we should see plenty of goals, at least three or four.”

Senegal supporter Herbert Ngassa, owner of the Ivory Bar and Restaurant in Deptford, south London, said his team “will not lose without fighting”.

Mr Ngassa is set to throw a fan party at his venue, which is decked out in green, yellow and red decorations to match the country’s flags for the occasion.

Celebrations are set to continue into the early hours of Monday “regardless” of the score, he said, with spirits high among Senegal fans despite England being the favourites to win.

“England are the favourites, but all I know is Senegal will not lose without fighting,” Mr Ngassa said.

England v Senegal – FIFA World Cup 2022 – Round of 16 – Al Bayt Stadium
There was a carnival atmosphere ahead of kick-off (Mike Egerton/PA)

“They will make it very difficult for England and if there comes a chance for that knockout punch, they will take it.”

Describing his plans for the evening, the NHS nurse said: “The place is completely colourful, we have special Senegalese foods on the menu, we have drummers, beers, soft drinks, champagne, everything you could wish for.

“We’re expecting over 80, maybe 100 people – to be honest if it goes according to plan we are going to be celebrating until two or three in the morning, regardless – win or lose!”

Earlier in the day, England fan Hayden Smith predicted an “easy win” for the Three Lions, saying: “(Harry) Kane hat-trick, watch, he’ll score tonight – everyone is slagging him off but he’s going to get a goal tonight – easy 3-0, 4-0.”

Confident fans at the Cabana Hop Garden in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Doha were already looking forward to a quarter-final clash with France, with some saying England should have “too much” for Senegal.

The UK ambassador to Senegal said the two nations are united in their “passion for football”, describing the African country as “about as football mad, if not more, than the UK is”.

Senegalese fans based in England have spoken of conflicting family allegiances ahead of the game, with one fan joking his son “might not have supper, depending on the result”.