Gareth Southgate jokes England’s strength gives him ‘headache’ picking team
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Remember back in those Russia World Cup days when pubs were fully open and the only sort of corona anybody knew about was being thrown up in the air in pint glasses? There was a brief but amusing fashion to see who could come up with the best possible finish to the sentence, “Gareth Southgate would…”
On Friday night the England manager provided his own very pertinent version.
“Gareth Southgate would be very careful to choose the right time for a new contract negotiation.”
Talks have been ongoing in the background and loose agreements put in place to nearly double Southgate’s pay and keep him till Euro 2024.
But the 51-year-old was adamant that he did not want to finalise a deal until qualification was properly secured.
It also rather conveniently gave him time to engineer England’s best performance at Wembley since he himself played in the 4-1 demolition of Holland at Euro 96.
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Yes, it was only Albania, but that is by no means too high praise. A packed Wembley at that – with the nation buying into the team enough to fill this cavernous bowl on a damp November night with pandemic rearing its head when the temptation had to be to hide inside the duvet.
The FA will be scrabbling around for a pen before the value gets any higher and Boris Johnson should thank his lucky stars that tying him down for another three years will stop Southgate from running for Prime Minister in the next general election.
Last time out, he had tried to pander to the nation with his selection by including all the crowd-pleasers but ultimately letting them down.
This was his team – a back three playing to the strengths of the fit players at his disposal and seven players with 40 caps or more, mainly won on his watch.
Just as in the Euro 2020 final, it was his wing-back that gave England the perfect start – this time Reece James crossing perfectly to thump his header home.
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There was even scope for a Kyle Walker error – Jordan Pickford proving his growing dependability once again as he saved from Myrto Azuni.
Minutes later, Jordan Henderson combined well with Phil Foden to create a simple one-yard header which even Kane had enough form left to convert.
Once Harry Kane had started scoring, England knew everything was going to be all right – although nobody, perhaps, anticipated the manner of the victory.
Henderson, the man ITV pundit Roy Keane cruelly thought was only at the Euros was for his card tricks, started to produce the sort of magic to make Lionel Messi proud.
Kane fired in his second after Raheem Sterling selflessly chose to put him in rather than go it alone.
Then – moment of the night – he then claimed his hat-trick with a bicycle kick from the Pele playbook. We’ll see that one repeated over the years.
And all of this was before half-time!
With inevitable substitutions, it was a rather more subdued second half – although Southgate still gave a popular cameo to Jack Grealish and a well-received debut Emile Smith Rowe.
But in fairness, his England side in 2021 had already scored 41 times – more than the Three Lions have managed in any single calendar year in its history.
With a trip to San Marino still to come.
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