RIJEKA (CROATIA), Oct 11: Just three months on from the bitter disappointment of losing a first World Cup semifinal for 28 years, England visit Croatia on Friday in the Nations League seeking not only revenge, but also a long-term solution to a familiar shortcoming.
England players during their final training session before leaving for Croatia.
For all the progress made by the Three Lions in a glorious Russian summer, a familiar lack of midfield authority ultimately undid England as Croatia’s Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic took control of their semifinal to come from a goal down in Moscow.
It was a similar story when Spain came to Wembley last month to puncture England’s feel-good factor by dominating the ball in a 2-1 Nations League win. A run to the last four with the third youngest squad at the World Cup raised expectations of what is to come from a richly talented generation under Gareth Southgate’s tutelage. However, Southgate has gone even younger in his search for the midfield maestro he believes England have lacked since the days of Paul Gascoigne. Jadon Sancho, 18, and Mason Mount, 19, who made moves to get more first team football, and James Maddison, who jumped to the Premier League, are all rewarded with a first call-up. Sancho has lit up the Bundesliga since making the brave decision to turn down Pep Guardiola’s pleas to keep him at Manchester City and join Borussia Dortmund last year. Compared to Neymar by his former England under-16 coach Dan Micciche, Sancho has more assists than any player in Europe’s top five leagues with nine this season, including one in the Champions League.
“I believe in myself, so moving to Germany didn’t faze me,” said Sancho as he faced the media glare for the first time in an England shirt. “I’m a bit tricky, direct, confident obviously. I believe in myself in one versus one situations.”
Maddison and Mount aren’t yet playing at that level, but they too have shunned the glamour of the top six sides in the Premier League to ensure more minutes on the field.
Wanted by Liverpool as a teenager, Maddison instead moved to Norwich before joining Leicester this summer to join two members of the World Cup squad, Harry Maguire and Jamie Vardy. – AFP