Jude Bellingham and Gio Reyna are firm friends on and off the pitch at Borussia Dortmund, where they are both key players working towards the same goal. The opposite will be true at the World Cup, however, where the youngsters could end each other’s dreams when England face the USA in Group B.
The BVB duo will have circled 25 November in their calendars when the schedule was released several months ago; the Three Lions take on the Stars and Stripes at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor in their second group stage fixture.
While all the games are of vital importance in the groups, that is especially true for the first two, which go a long way to determining not only if a country will reach the knockout stages, but which bracket they will enter on a potential route to the final.
Bellingham was already considered one of the most gifted youngsters in the game before going to the next level this season. He is one of only five outfield players not to have missed a single minute of Bundesliga action in 2022/23, while he has played the full 90 minutes in five of Dortmund’s six UEFA Champions League assignments and is the club’s leading scorer in that competition this term with four goals.
Head coach Edin Terzic has sung his praises a number of times, most recently hailing his “extraordinary consistency”, and Reyna is also a fully paid-up member of the Bellingham fan club.
“I think in tough times and good times, he’s always there for us performing,” said the 14-time USA international of his box-to-box teammate.
“In a difficult season last year for us, he was always there for us every game. He was one of the best players for us all season. And being third-choice captain [after Marco Reus and Mats Hummels] at 19 shows what kind of guy he is and what kind of player he is. It’s a pleasure to play with him and to be his friend.”
Watch: Reyna on Bellingham relationship
None of the above has gone unnoticed by England manager Gareth Southgate, who gave Bellingham his debut in late 2020 and has since made him a permanent member of the senior squad. And not just of the wider pool, in fact, but of the first XI.
The Dortmund No.22 has started in eight of his 17 England appearances so far, including each of the team’s last three games. As such he is in line to anchor the midfield again in Qatar, alongside West Ham’s Declan Rice, fending off some serious competition from the likes of Jordan Henderson, Kalvin Phillips and Conor Gallagher.
Not that Bellingham will have it all his own way against a USA team determined to make amends after missing the last tournament in Russia. Gregg Berhalter has a seriously talented roster at his disposal, including Bundesliga alumni Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, while Brenden Aaronson – brother of recent Eintracht Frankfurt signing Paxten – is another key player.
Watch: Bellingham tactical analysis
And then, of course, there’s Reyna. Having made his Dortmund and senior USA debuts at just 17, the England-born attacking midfielder has struggled with injuries over the past year or so. He only made 10 Bundesliga appearances in 2021/22, while he has featured in just 10 of BVB’s 15 league fixtures this term, with Terzic keen not to put too much strain on him too soon after recovering from muscular and fitness issues.
However, the fact he has made five Champions League appearances this season shows just how much faith Terzic has in him in the big games. The same goes for Berhalter: when fit, Reyna tends to start, featuring from the off in 10 of his 14 caps to date, scoring four times.
Bellingham too, is another Reyna groupie. “He looks like he hasn’t even been out [of action],” the Englishman said after Reyna netted his first goal of the season against Stuttgart on Matchday 11.
Watch: Reyna: Precocious Highs and Lows
“He comes into the game and from his first touch he’s trying to play it forward. That’s the kind of player you love to play with. You just give him the ball and he does what he does. I’ve not seen many people work harder than how he’s worked to get back fit in football. He deserves everything he gets for the rest of the season.”
Talent, youth, experience and no end of admirers: Bellingham and Reyna both seem to have it all. Now it’s just a matter of showing it once again on the biggest stage there is. May the best man win!
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