‘We are fully focused on trying to win the game’: England boss Gareth Southgate will tell his Three Lions players NOT to go easy on war-torn Ukraine in their Euro 2024 qualifier at Wembley on Sunday night
- Southgate has played a key role in ensuring victims of conflict will be recognised
- Around 4,200 Ukraine fans will be among a sell-out crowd in excess of 85,000
- The pre-match events will also pause to honour captain Harry Kane’s feat
Gareth Southgate will tell his players to not allow their sympathy for war-torn Ukraine to go easy at Wembley on Sunday night.
The England boss has played a key role in ensuring the victims of the conflict with Russia will be recognised in advance of their EURO 2024 qualifier but insists his main focus is on beating the troubled visitors.
He explained he expects nothing less than 100 per cent from his opponent too and said: ‘They are very proud.
‘We saw that right at the beginning of the war when they went to Scotland and Wales for the play-offs.
‘They are a very proud group of players, you can see that. Totally committed to bringing enjoyment to their public.
Gareth Southgate will tell his England players to not go easy on war-torn Ukraine at Wembley
Harry Kane, who became England’s all-time record goalscorer, will be honoured at the match
‘We, of course, have huge sympathy with what’s going on and support for what’s going on but tomorrow is a game of football and we are fully focused on trying to win the game.’
Ukraine will be well represented at Wembley too.
More than 1000 Ukrainians and their host families have been invited to the game as special guests of the FA.
Around 4,200 Ukraine fans will be among a sell-out crowd in excess of 85,000 and both sets of players will come together before kick-off to send a message of peace.
The pre-match events will also pause to honour captain Harry Kane’s feat away to Italy in midweek when he became England’s all-time record goalscorer.
The Tottenham Hotspur striker to be presented with a commemorative golden boot by FA Chair Debbie Hewitt.
And that means Brentford Ivan Toney will again have to wait for his chance to lead England’s attack as Southgate vowed to field his strongest possible line-up in a bid to double-down on the Italy win and take a huge step towards qualifying for next year’s finals, in Germany.
He added: ‘He’s (Toney) been very good. We really like him and he’s very much in our thoughts.
‘You know the numbers we’ve got with us now so there’s always the dual objective: of course, a desire to see players but we are in a qualifying group where the priority is to win the game, first and foremost. Whatever we decide is with a view to doing that.’
More than 1000 Ukrainians have been invited to the game on Sunday. Pictured: Jack Grealish
The England boss (R) has played a key role in ensuring victims of the conflict will be recognised
He revealed midfielders Jordan Henderson and Jude Bellingham are both fit for selection
Southgate, who revealed midfielders Jordan Henderson, Jude Bellingham and Kalvin Phillips are all fit for selection, has also resisted the temptation to call up a replacement for Reece James after the Chelsea defender left the squad through injury.
‘It is because we’ve been training with this group all week. To call someone from the outside would potentially be quite complicated.
‘You’ve no idea where they might be, what their training load has been over the last few days so if we were going to do that at this point, we would do it with the Under-21s.
‘But they’ve got a game today and we feel we’ve just about got enough to get through the game.’
Manchester United defender Luke Shaw has continued to train with England despite being banned for the Ukraine clash after his red card in Naples.
‘Luke, to start with, loves being with us,’ Southgate said. ‘I think he wants to contribute where he can, he was able to help us with training today as well. I think he just epitomises the spirit of the group really. That togetherness and commitment is hugely important.’
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford emphasised how great the mood in the camp is after the rare win in Italy and how they now aim to build on the result.
He said: ‘It was a massive game – in history, we haven’t won there for a long time. I feel like those are the steps forward we need to take to become winners really in major championships.
‘I remember the Spain game away when we won 3-2 in Betis’ stadium. It is just a little marker we are laying down as a team, our togetherness, our squad mentality.
‘To go forward and be able to beat Italy away from home was a massive game for us.’
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford emphasised how great the mood is in his country’s camp
Man United defender Luke Shaw (C) has continued to train with England despite being banned
For Southgate, it is a chance for him to add to his 50 wins since becoming England manager.
He pointed out: ‘It means we have a chance to make it 51 tomorrow – that’s all I am focussed on.
‘The past is irrelevant as is what we have done up to now. I am just focused on tomorrow’s game.
‘We need to win. We need to be on six points when we leave Wembley tomorrow. If we are going to be considered a really top team we have to back up our performance in Italy and elements of our performance at Wembley tomorrow.’
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