Wednesday 23 January 2019

Sterling slow to pick up Southgate warning

England manager Gareth Southgate. Photo: PA
England manager Gareth Southgate. Photo: PA

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Raheem Sterling was booked for diving during England's 2-1 win over Nigeria at Wembley on Saturday only hours after Gareth Southgate had warned his players about the use of the video assistant referee (VAR) during the World Cup finals.

Referees in Russia will be able to caution or even send off players at half-time after reviewing first-half incidents.

That is expected to cover violent conduct, but the English FA is waiting to hear the exact protocols and players could also be sanctioned for other offences, such as diving.

Southgate expanded on his decision not to drop Sterling for the Nigeria match, as he had considered doing, after the Manchester City player reported late to meet up with the rest of the squad.

The manager claimed it would have been a "huge story" if he had left Sterling out, as it followed on from the storm over the assault-rifle tattoo on his right leg.

Instead, Southgate said he felt it was more important, and less damaging to the squad, for Sterling to simply get on with playing football.

The 23-year-old did that and was unfortunate not to score in England's impressive first-half performance, missing two clear chances, but was then booked in the second period as he chased down a ball into the penalty area and went down early as Nigeria goalkeeper Francis Uzoho approached him.

Sterling was rightly cautioned by Italian referee Marco Guida and, although Southgate said he had not yet seen a replay of the incident, he confirmed: "We had a conversation with everybody this morning for that very reason.

"Not that we are looking to get away with anything, but if we thought we could, that's gone. There have been tackles we've had in recent games that would be pulled up, might be yellow or red cards. All our players must be aware of that.

"How that is going to be interpreted is going to be really important for the consistency in the tournament."

For the first half of Saturday's match, this felt like a new England, a vindication of nearly two years of work by Southgate trying to lift the burden of history from these players.

Yes, it was only a friendly, only a half-interested Nigeria, and England were still 16 days and 2,000 miles away from facing Tunisia in Volgograd in the real big kick-off.

But everything fans would want to see from this team was on show, and England played with a freedom and style that warranted more than their 2-0 half-time lead courtesy of goals from Gary Cahill and Harry Kane.

But if the first half was the future, the second half was the past, as England conceded badly, went into their shells and looked for much of it as if they were heading for a 2-2 draw. The old doubts crept back in and you wondered whether this team could free themselves from history as easily as many would like.

© Independent News Service.

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