Gareth Southgate: England manager warns Three Lions will have to adapt to setbacks in Qatar ahead of final World Cup audition
Gareth Southgate admits the forthcoming Nations League games in September will be a final chance for players to audition for inclusion in his World Cup squad this coming winter.
England travel to Milan to face Italy at the San Siro on September 23 before hosting Germany at Wembley three days later. Southgate will be required to have his
final 26-man squad ready for the tournament in Qatar by Friday, October 21.
It will be the final chance for Southgate to take a look at players who may have not been included during the last England camp in June, when England failed to win any of their four games and were notably beaten 4-0 at home to Hungary.
The Three Lions boss acknowledges we are approaching crunch time in his selection thoughts – and he is after a response.
“We’re not going to get the players together again before the World Cup,” admitted the England boss to Sky Sports. “You’d normally have around a 28-day training camp and a couple of friendlies leading into a tournament to work with the team.
“This is the last realistic opportunity to do that. When we get together in the winter, we’ll be flying to Qatar and it’ll be a normal one-week prep for a game.
“This is a great opportunity to test ourselves against really top teams. We want to respond to the performances we gave in the summer, and it’s really important for preparation ahead of the World Cup.”
There are certainly plenty of talking points emerging already from the opening three weekends of the Premier League season concerning players who have been regularly called upon under Southgate.
Jack Grealish has only played half the minutes for Manchester City, having been left out entirely in the 3-3 draw at Newcastle, where defender John Stones made his first start of the campaign.
At Manchester United, there is further intrigue regarding how significant a role both Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw will play in Erik ten Hag’s defence following the morale-boosting win over Liverpool.
In terms of the deep pool of creative options, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford both put forward their case for inclusion by scoring in the game at Old Trafford and must continue their own upturn in form over the coming month, while James Maddison has been the standout performer for Leicester.
Conversely, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka, Mason Mount and Jarrod Bowen are all yet to score this campaign. Southgate, however, is not too concerned about making snap judgments just yet.
He said: “At this time of year, the Premier League table doesn’t settle down for a few weeks and you’ve still got the transfer window open, which causes so much chaos in every club.
“Things have to settle but we’re perhaps fortunate as the international window normally falls in about a week but we’ve been given more time. It’s nice to have a few more weeks to see how things map out and see where players are physically and fitness-wise.
“There have been some unexpected results, but I think at this time of year that can happen. Things will take on a more familiar look once we get into two games a week across multiple competitions.”
Does Southgate know his preferred starting XI in Qatar, barring any injuries?
It is a question fans will want to know given how close we are now to the tournament beginning, but it is not one that he believes is a true reflection of how international management works.
“Everyone always says that you need to be clear on your best team, but you’ve always got to leave space and opportunity for people who are playing well,” said Southgate.
“You know you’re going to lose players from the squad in the next few months. It’s already happened with some of the countries so whatever the idea is in your head of who your best players are – which we have – that’s going to fluctuate and you’ve got to adapt.
“Possibly in this World Cup more than any other, that ability to adapt and to operate quickly to make the right decisions is more important than ever.”
Southgate: Women’s sport took centre stage this summer
After securing their first piece of major silverware with the 2-1 extra-time victory over Germany at Wembley on July 31, England Women will be back in action with World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Luxembourg on September 3 and 6.
Sarina Wiegman named her first squad since the summer’s historic Euros triumph on Wednesday – the first of the post-Ellen White era – and Southgate was full of praise for how the Lionesses’ united the nation.
Southgate added: “Women’s sport took centre stage for that period and there are very few occasions where I can remember that happening in my lifetime, so it’s a big statement in itself.
“How big it was only really hit home to me when I went back into St George’s Park, when you saw some of the coaches who’d worked with the girls in the development teams and who were working in the development centres around the country because their work has been going on for decades without a lot of recognition.
“You could see the likes of Jill Scott, in particular, who has been part of that team’s journey through three or four head coaches, hitting semi-finals and getting closer and closer to winning.
“It was a huge win for all of those reasons.”
The hope now is for the men’s team to use the Lionesses’ triumph as a blueprint for their own success in Qatar this winter.
“We could see how the nation is when it’s engaged in major sporting events,” Southgate said. “We saw it for ourselves in the Euros and we knew what it would be like for the girls if they could get through to the final and they went one step further.
“It reignites the passion on our side.”
Rice hoping men’s team can follow in Lionesses’ footsteps
Declan Rice is hoping England’s men can follow in the footsteps of the country’s women and deliver a major tournament victory at the World Cup in Qatar.
West Ham captain Rice was a key part of Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad as they reached the final before suffering a heart-breaking penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy at Wembley.
Rice was also at the national stadium when the Lionesses made history by becoming the first England team – men or women – to win a major trophy since the 1966 World Cup by beating Germany in July’s Euro 2022 final.
The 23-year-old midfielder now has his sights set on a second major title of the calendar year for England, with the World Cup set to get under way in November.
“Definitely (it would be special to lift the World Cup),” Rice said.
“We got so close as a team (at Euro 2020) and then to see the women win it… I was (at Wembley) myself and it was so special to see how the country came together.”
Rice: We need to raise the standards
England have struggled for form in recent months, failing to win any of their four Nations League matches to leave them on the brink of relegation from Group A3 with just two points.
However, Rice believes the players know that performance levels must be raised ahead of next month’s trip to Italy and a home clash with Germany which will be their first match at Wembley since March.
England have drawn with Italy and lost to Hungary at Molineux since their last outing at their traditional home.
“I feel like it’s good to go around the smaller stadiums in the country so those fanbases can see us,” Rice said.
“Obviously it wasn’t the results we wanted, but the lads know that we need to raise the standards and we can do that in September, which is a positive sign.”
On the upcoming encounters with Italy and Germany, he added: “Two massive games, games that you want to play in as an international player, (especially the one) here at Wembley and another chance to keep pushing in the Nations League, so we want to do well.”
England drew 1-1 with Germany when the sides met at the Allianz Arena in June and Rice reckons testing themselves against teams of that calibre will serve them well in Qatar.
“(It’s a) massive (game), you want to test yourself against the best,” he said.
“In the World Cup, if you get through the group it’s obviously knock-out games and then you’re playing against the best teams in the world, so you need to test yourself against the best and beat the best to win the tournament.”
What’s next for England?
England will convene in September ahead of the two remaining group stage matches in the Nations League.
They face Italy at the San Siro on September 23 before hosting Germany three days later at Wembley.
Southgate will submit a long list of players to FIFA on Friday October 21, but the England manager is expected to announce his final World Cup 26-man squad on either November 9-10. The FIFA deadline is Monday November 14.
England will depart for Qatar on Tuesday November 15 before they face Iran in their opening World Cup group game on November 21 at the Khalifa International Stadium, Doha.
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