Gareth Southgate has offered hope and encouragement to those left out of England’s World Cup opening game against Iran on Monday. Many people would have expected Phil Foden to start but he had to settle for a place on the bench, which came as a ‘surprise’ for former Premier League defender Micah Richards.
England’s wealth of attacking talent presented Southgate with a difficult dilemma ahead of kick-off on Monday. Bukayo Saka and Foden have been in excellent form for Arsenal and Manchester City respectively, while Raheem Sterling has been a stellar performer for the Three Lions in the past.
However, the trio were fighting for two starting spots against Iran, and Foden was the one to break through. Saka started on the right and Sterling on the left. Before the game began, former City full-back Richards stated that the decision to omit Foden was “shocking”.
Southgate also drew attention by returning to a back-four for England’s opening game in Qatar, when a back-three has been used more regularly in recent weeks.
Asked if the tactical adjustment was due to the way Iran is likely to prepare, Southgate told the BBC: “A little bit, because you’re always looking at the opponent. We think this is a strong team and a solid way to beginning.
Southgate also provided hope to those left on the bench, with Foden perhaps the most surprising omission, explaining: “We also have depth coming into the game, which could be key for this tournament. It’s important that we start on the front foot. “.
Southgate have tended to show faith in players who have historically performed well for the Three Lions, leaving numerous in-form club stars waiting for their chance. The decision to start Manchester United outcast Harry Maguire is one of the most striking examples and he was once again given a vote of confidence against Iran.
Much of the build-up to Monday’s game was linked to the captain’s armband controversy, with FIFA threatening to hand out an instant yellow card if Harry Kane used the OneLove message to promote LGBTQ+ rights. Southgate was asked about the saga before kick-off but insisted his mind has been solely on sporting matters.
“There have been discussions without me while we were preparing for the match,” he told the BBC. “We wear the FIFA armband, that was decided overnight by the federations. We’re in the middle of it, but we’re also trying to focus on the game, frankly.”
Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and Wales also backed down in a joint statement issued hours before England’s game began on Monday.
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