Thursday 13 December 2018

Southgate focusing on football despite Russia concerns

England manager Gareth Southgate. Photo: Reuters
England manager Gareth Southgate. Photo: Reuters

Jamie Holland

Gareth Southgate has insisted England are fully focused on their preparations for the World Cup, despite the escalating tension with Russia.

Southgate admitted the breakdown in relations with Russia is "a serious matter" but confirmed that the English FA have no plans to withdraw England from the finals.

The England manager faced questions on the Russia issue for the first time as he named his squad for this month's friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy.

And while admitting his concerns, he said he is determined to concentrate on taking charge of the team for the first time in a major tournament.

"We are preparing to go to the World Cup. There is no doubt that's what we should be doing. We are focused most on the safety and security of players and supporters," he said.

Southgate has given maiden call-ups to Burnley pair James Tarkowski and Nick Pope, Swansea's Alfie Mawson and Bournemouth's Lewis Cook.

Southgate has watched the Burnley centre-half and goalkeeper frequently in recent months.

"Nick's form has been excellent and it's great credit to Burnley and (manager) Sean Dyche that two members of their defensive unit are here," he said.

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere has also been included. The 26-year-old, who has 34 caps, has not played for England since the embarrassing defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016 after a period ravaged by injuries and a lack of game-time.

Southgate said: "Jack has unquestionable talent. The key for me is he's now playing in the games that matter for Arsenal and playing well, (showing) his technical ability, passing ability. Lewis Cook is in the same vein, with a nice range of passing."

In a bold selection, Southgate has overlooked several senior figures and opened up the battle for the number-one jersey ahead of the World Cup finals.

There was no place in the 27-man squad for defenders Chris Smalling, Michael Keane or Gary Cahill.

"(Leaving Cahill out was) a very difficult call because Gary has played a lot of our qualifying matches and is a great guy," Southgate said.

"(He is) a player I really respect, so difficult call but I don't want to bring a senior player in if there are others I need to look at and he's not going to play."

England squad - Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland, Nick Pope. Defenders: Kyle Walker, Kieran Tripper, Ryan Bertrand, Danny Rose, John Stones, James Tarkowski, Alfie Mawson, Joe Gomez, Harry Maguire. Midfielders: Eric Dier, Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson, Jake Livermore, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Ashley Young, Jesse Lingard, Lewis Cook. Attackers: Danny Welbeck, Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford.

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