England coach Southgate looking to future

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Seville (Spain), Oct 16 (IANS) Spain had not lost a competitive game at home for 15 years and were unbeaten in 90 minutes in their previous 38 games until England beat them 3-2 in the Benito Villamarin Stadium here.

The side coached by Gareth Southgate may have failed to win their last five games since reaching the quarter-finals of the World Cup in July, but produced a magnificent tactical performance in the first half of the game on Monday night to stifle Spain’s passing game and to score three goals on the break, before defending with a mixture of determination and luck to hold on for the win.

The Spanish went into the game with three wins in three matches under new coach Luis Enrique, including a 2-1 win over England at Wembley, a 6-0 triumph at home to Croatia and a 4-1 triumph in Wales and with their confidence sky high, reports Xinhua news agency.

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Meanwhile England fielded a side with several key players out through injury and suspension and with Southgate putting his faith in youth with players such as 21-year-old left back Ben Chilwell, 20-year-old Marcos Rashford, 21-year-old Joe Gomez and 22-year-old Harry Winks.

Raheem Sterling with 46 caps was the most experienced player in a squad where the oldest players were 28-year-olds Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier, who was the only player aged over 25 in the England starting 11, while players such as 18-year-old Jadon Sandro, 19-year-old Mason Mount, 20-year-old Trent Alexander Arnold and 21-year-old James Maddison were on the bench, showing Southgate’s commitment to the future.

The England coach may well be thinking ahead to the 2020 European Championships when the final will be played at Wembley and also to the 2022 World Cup Finals, when his recently extended contract is due to expire, but the changes he made in Seville also show that he also has his eyes fixed firmly on the present.

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After seeing how Croatia dominated possession against his side in the World Cup semi-final and how the Spanish controlled the ball against England in September, last Saturday’s 0-0 draw away to Croatia saw Southgate abandon his favoured five-man defence to return to a more traditional 4-3-3 in order to close the spaces off in midfield.

The system worked at the weekend and with more luck (and better finishing) his side would have avenged their World Cup defeat and against Spain on Monday it worked again, stifling Spain’s talented players (especially in the first half), while allowing for swift counter-attacks.

England had clearly studied Spain’s weaknesses, where Sergio Ramos is starting to become a problem at the back and Pickford was always alert to pick Harry Kane out with a long clearance, with all three goals coming through swift combinations between Kane, Sterling and Rashford.

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They were on the back foot in the second half, which is becoming a slightly worrying trend, but after Paco Alcacer headed Spain back into things just before the hour, they defended with discipline and if they rode their luck on occasions, it was little more than the personality shown by such a young side deserved.

With Monday’s win Southgate showed that England’s World Cup performance was no fluke and that while he is clearly thinking of the future, his side’s present is also more than correct.

–IANS

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