Thursday, April 25, 2024

Gareth Southgate looking forward to Belgium test as England build towards Euros

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 24 Mar 2024

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Gareth Southgate is looking forward to seeing new players in another high-level test as England continue to “build towards the summer” by hosting Belgium fresh from their defeat to Brazil.

Among the favourites to become continental champions in Germany, the Euro 2020 runners-up are third in FIFA’s world rankings and organised March friendlies against the two nations directly below them.

Five-time world champions Brazil sit fifth and on Saturday inflicted England’s first defeat since their World Cup quarter-final exit to France 15 months ago, with 17-year-old substitute Endrick sealing a late 1-0 triumph.

Southgate was pleased despite their 10-match unbeaten run ending as Euro 2024 comes into sight and is looking forward to another stern Wembley test against a Belgium side sat fourth in the world rankings.

“Belgium have played a different 11 probably, or close to, so they’re going to be a bit fresher,” the England boss said after the Red Devils drew 0-0 away to the Republic of Ireland on Saturday.

“But similar to (Brazil) we’re talking about a high-level game, brilliant experience for the players, a chance to see new players again, build towards the summer.

“I’m not disappointed with the level of performance. I know in the end when you lose the game then there will always be a negative reaction to losing.

“But my thought was, with 15 minutes to go given all the changes that we’d made, I thought the crowd was already with the team.

“They could see a lot of young players going in and doing well, a lot of very inexperienced players going in and doing well, so I’m not down on the performance of the team at all.”

Put to Southgate in a separate interview with BBC Radio 5 Live that it must hurt that England lost their unbeaten run ahead of the Euros, he said: “Well, it does because we had an unbeaten year.

“But we deliberately took two really high-level games and of course we’ve had to put out a very different team to the one we might have envisaged.

“So, we’ve still learned an awful lot ahead of the summer that’s really important. You know, some of these boys are pushing for starting positions, some are pushing for places in the squad.

“You need to see them against that sort of level of opposition to see if they’re going to be able to excel in the summer.”

Southgate praised Anthony Gordon, Ezri Konsa and Kobbie Mainoo after their debuts against Brazil, with defender Jarrad Branthwaite hoping to follow suit by making his bow against Belgium.

One-cap Ivan Toney and James Maddison are sure to come in having been the only other two unused outfield players for the penultimate match before the England boss selects his provisional Euros squad.

Joe Gomez, Lewis Dunk, Jarrod Bowen and Marcus Rashford joined Konsa and Mainoo in coming off the bench against Brazil and also have something to prove ahead of Southgate’s selection.

Jordan Henderson and Cole Palmer also appear to be in contention after returning to training on the day of the Brazil match, but Kyle Walker is a major doubt after liming off early in Saturday’s friendly.

“We don’t know (the severity),” Southgate said of the Manchester City right-back. “He’s not had many injuries, so he himself isn’t sure whether it’s just tightness.

“I suspect if he’s feeling it, it’s a little bit more than that but we’ll know a bit more over the next 24, 36 hours.”

Walker would follow Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka in withdrawing from an absentee-hit final camp before the Euros, when Phil Foden has been tipped to star.

Pep Guardiola believes the Manchester City midfielder is the best player in the Premier League right now, but the 23-year-old has yet to fully flourish in an England shirt and Saturday was no different.

“I think at moments we saw that (quality shown at City),” Southgate said. “We’ve several players missing, so some of the combinations are different, some of the interplay is different.

“I thought him and Jude (Bellingham) at times in the first half combined well.

“But, again, he’s also playing against a high-level side. We’re not dominating 75 per cent of the ball, which at times is the case with his club.

“It’s a different sort of a challenge, but I wasn’t unhappy with Phil’s performance.”

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