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England's Southgate ponders tough choices as Euro 2024 looms

By AFP

March 27, 2024 05:20 PM


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Gareth Southgate has watched his final England international before he names his Euro 2024 squad. Now he faces tough decisions that could make or break the campaign.

Jude Bellingham scored a last-gasp equaliser in an entertaining 2-2 draw at Wembley on Tuesday, which lifted the mood after a disappointing 1-0 defeat to Brazil at the weekend.

Friendlies are not a reliable predictor of a team's likely performance when the pressure is truly on but Southgate gleaned important information about his men over the two matches in London.

England will travel to Germany in June among the favourites to win the European Championship for the first time after coming up agonisingly short against Italy in the final in 2021.

In what could be Southgate's last hurrah as England boss, the pressure will be intense on the side to finally deliver a first major trophy since the 1966 World Cup.

The manager, who has been at the helm since 2016, admits he will have to take stock of his resources, especially given the spate of injuries that has disrupted his preparations.

"I'd have to sit and go through it all because I'm a little bit lost as to who we've got and we haven't really," he said after the draw against Belgium, who are ranked fourth in the world, one place below England.

"The great thing is definitely some players have emerged positively from the opportunities they've had so we've perhaps got more depth in one respect but the injuries are a concern.

"We've got so many players missing at the moment and we've still got the real heat of the (club) season to come, the intensity of the games, what's resting on the games.

"We're not going to know what we're left with until right at the end but we'll just make the best decisions that we possibly can."

 Battle for places 

 The reality is that if England have a clean bill of health, there will be limited places up for grabs in the 23-man squad.

Despite a flat performance against Brazil -- the team's first defeat since they lost to France at the 2022 World Cup --  England showed over the two games they have attacking strength in depth.

In the absence of the injured Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka, who are both certainties for the Euros, Jarrod Bowen and Ivan Toney, making his first England start, impressed their manager, with Toney scoring a penalty.

Midfield looks strong, with Bellingham and Declan Rice certain starters, but Manchester United starlet Kobbie Mainoo appears close to booking his place on the plane after just two caps.

Southgate said the 18-year-old prodigy, who has played just 15 times for United in the Premier League, gives England a "different profile of midfield player to anything else we've got".

"His attributes are there for everybody to see, that ability to receive under pressure and ride challenges, to manipulate the ball in tight areas," he said.

"He's adapted and adjusted brilliantly. You can't believe his age really, that he's taken it all in his stride."

But doubts linger over whether England have what it takes in defence, particularly in central areas, with costly errors blighting the performances against Brazil and Belgium.

Southgate has been loyal to Harry Maguire even though the Manchester United man is not a regular for his club, partly due to a lack of compelling alternatives.

Maguire was an injury absentee on Tuesday, replaced by Lewis Dunk, who has done little to press his case, at fault for goals conceded in both matches.

"We've had a consistent defence because of the qualities that they have and that's always been apparent to us," said Southgate.

"We needed to test the other guys against high-level opponents and we've been able to do that in the two games so that allows us to go away, it allows them to think about how they've played and to win a tournament you've got to defend really well as a team, not just the back four.

"We definitely gave up more chances than we have, or better-quality chances than we have done for a while but we have also played two top-level teams and that's the reality of those games as well."


AFP


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