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Jude Bellingham instantly shows why he can dominate this World Cup for England

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Do you remember the release of Beyoncé’s “Crazy In Love”? What about Wayne Rooney’s England debut in a friendly loss to Australia at Upton Park? Or when sensational pop duo Jemini, representing the UK, scored zero points and finished in last place in the Eurovision Song Contest?

I guess what we’re really asking is: do you want to feel old? Because if you remember any or all of those things, Jude Bellingham doesn’t.

The England midfielder’s big new hope is not old enough to buy himself a pint in the rooftop bar of one of Doha’s luxury hotels, even if he wanted to pay the prohibitive prices – his 21st birthday still over 18 months away – but he’s finally of an age where Gareth Southgate feels comfortable throwing him in the opening match of a World Cup campaign, and the maturity to own a such occasion.

Bellingham’s first England goal is England’s first goal of this World Cup, his 35th-minute header breaking Iran’s resistance and breaking the back of an awkward and attritional game up to this point .

The third-youngest starter in a World Cup final in England’s history didn’t need to do much to convert an immaculate cross from second-youngest Luke Shaw. His movement off the ball had already allowed him to drift into the penalty area undetected. All that remained was to guide the ball to Iran’s helpless second-choice keeper.

It was Bellingham’s highlight of the night, but it was one more performance than just scoring your first international goal. It was also a matter of substance.

The Borussia Dortmund midfielder’s first half was literally perfect – he finished it with a 100% success rate, despite Iran’s best efforts to disrupt England’s long spells of possession .

Bellingham maintained that perfect record until nine minutes after the restart, when a driving run to the contour line nearly saw him produce a clean chance.

By then he had already played a key role in England’s third game as another flurry in traffic in the middle of the park provided space for Kane to slip in, a nice toe pass opening a new route of attack, just as it seemed to be overcrowded.

It’s times like this when Bellingham reminded the Khalifa International Stadium that, despite still being a teenager, he’s the closest thing to a complete midfielder in England. His jersey number tells you a lot.

Number 22 may go a long way in Southgate’s 26-man list, but it’s the number Bellingham wears at club level and was the only one Bellingham would ever wear at this tournament. As a teenager entering Birmingham City’s academy, a disgruntled young tyro wanted more opportunities to play as a No.10. His coaches had other ideas. They thought he was doing himself a disservice. He was a No. 4, a No. 8 and a No. 10 all rolled into one. He was, in other words, a No. 22.

It was an idea that followed Bellingham throughout his career, all the way to Westphalia. Last season at Dortmund, he was deployed in several different roles in midfield – as one of the double pivots in a 3-4-3, as a player shuttling away from a diamond, or as one of the No. 8s in a 4-3-3.

Bellingham looked the closest thing to an England midfielder

(AFP/Getty)

Southgate is known to switch between systems himself, took note of this tactical versatility and it is perhaps no coincidence that since he has shown such tactical flexibility, he appears to have moved ahead of Kalvin Phillips in the pecking order to partner Declan Rice.

And with all due respect to the midfield duo who led England to a first major tournament final in 55 years, Bellingham’s rise to starting status offers something different, something that England of Southgate perhaps needed.

At the start of the year, the 19-year-old’s only 90 competitive minutes came against San Marino. He has now started six of England’s last seven games. It could still be there in a decade. Welcome to the era of Jude Bellingham, est 2003.

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By Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at cablefreetv.org