It was just after 1am Qatar time when Phil Foden walked past the media waiting in the bowels of the Al Bayt Stadium and headed for the England team bus. Foden smiled politely but it wasn’t to stop and chat. Unused in the monotonous 0-0 draw against the USA, he had nothing to talk about.
Assuming he doesn’t have an injury England have kept secret, and Gareth Southgate gave no indication of that afterwards, it was baffling that Foden was judged entirely above requirements. Clearly England found it difficult to fight their way through an organized American team and Foden is one of their most creative players.
It was like planning a robbery and leaving the locksmith in the getaway car. In a sense, Southgate’s decision was vindicated by the position England now find themselves in heading into Tuesday’s final group game against Wales. The four-goal defeat that would see them knocked out has never happened before against Wales and will not happen in Qatar.
Phase one of the World Cup operation has ended with a sobering draw against the USA, but after the eminently forgettable evening at the Al Bayt, a boost is needed heading into the round of 16.
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One swallow does not make a summer and if England are to convince themselves as much as others that they are capable of achieving something remarkable in this tournament, they need a performance against Wales that revives the delights of Iran rather than the desert night of a thousand snores
Southgate have something to think about in their line-up for Wales and the center of that is Foden. There’s no point in an instinctive slash-and-burn job on a side that looked so good just six days ago. But the 22-year-old is on form with seven Premier League goals and four assists to his credit this season and he was impressive coming off the bench against the Iranians, taking over from Mason Mount behind the attacking line.
With Mount ineffective against the Americans, Foden should have a chance to make his mark at this World Cup early on against Wales. When it comes to these selection matchups, it often makes sense for a manager to step into their counterpart’s shoes and ask, “Who would you like to play less of?”
Rob Page’s answer would be Foden. Mount has the attributes of him, but Foden has the ability to separate the opposition. This tournament was supposed to be his moment, but at the moment, on a personal level, it seems that he is going the same way as the Eurocopa experience last summer.
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In fact, he had a starting job at the time, but lost it after the second game against Scotland and never got it back, eventually missing out on the final with a foot injury. Perhaps this World Cup can still be a mirror image if they go up against Wales and can make an irresistible case.
There’s an argument that Mount is best deployed off the bench anyway against draining defenses with his boundless energy. He was the very definition of an impactful substitute in England’s last game before the World Cup against Germany, scoring a superb goal to change the direction of the game.
To Southgate. The England manager’s hope has to be that the US game will be the World Cup equivalent of the 0-0 draw against the Scots at Euros 17 months ago, a unique misstep in a tournament that usually else is encouraging. There are no guarantees on that front, but bringing Foden in from the cold would surely help.
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