Harry Maguire, Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice and Phil Foden will be suspended for a Wembley semi-final on Wednesday if they are booked in the course of an England victory over Ukraine in Rome tonight. Southgate’s only concern is getting that victory, he insists.
Sheffield-born Maguire has brought leadership, assurance and improved passing to the defence since belatedly starting his tournament after injury. Leeds United’s homegrown midfielder Phillips has formed a midfield partnership with Rice which has been hugely important in England being the only team yet to concede in the tournament, and Manchester City youngster Foden was picked for the first two matches of the competition until losing his place to Saka because of suspension fears.
But Foden was taken out of the firing line in a group match after England had already qualified for the knockout stages. Manager Southgate says no such considerations can come into play this evening.
“I don’t really understand that rationale,” said Southgate of the prospect of leaving players out tonight for that reason.
“I understand that strategically you might like to do that but I can’t think of a country in the world that would do that for a quarter-final, especially not a country that’s only ever been to three (major tournament) semi-finals in its history.
“I think we’ve got to focus on the game. It would be a big error for us to be thinking about anything else and an insult to Ukraine as well.
“We won’t be making any decisions based on yellow cards.
“We did that in the last group game because we knew we were qualified and we had the opportunity to protect Phil in that game because we weren’t sure what was going to happen further on. But now we play to win and we’ve got to have everybody available.”
Players collecting two yellow cards at this stage of the tournament receive a one-match suspension but anyone with one caution to their name by tomorrow will have it wiped from their record to prevent a repeat of 1990 when Paul Gascoigne would have been suspended from the World Cup final had England gone on to reach it.
England’s first European Championship semi-final came in 1968 in a tournament that only featured four teams, and they lost it to Yugoslavia. The only quarter-final they won was after a penalty shoot-out against Spain in 1996, before being knocked out on spot-kicks by Germany. Southgate played in both matches, infamously missing the decisive kick in the latter.
Gascoigne’s England were beaten World Cup semi-finalists in 1990, and their only victory at the last four stage was en route to winning the trophy in 1966.
With a wealth of options at his disposal, Southgate also has tactical decisions to make about what formation to play and whether there are players on the bench who could provide more energy or cause different problems to Ukraine.
England played a 3-4-3 formation to match Germany’s in Tuesday’s 2-0 victory. How Ukraine will line up is unclear, but the expectation is they will allow England more possession, making returning to the 4-2-3-1 of the group stage games a possibility to consider.
Chelsea pair Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell are realistic options having had to isolate after coming into contact with Covid-19 sufferer Billy Gilmour until midnight before the Germany game, and England’s only fitness issue is with Arsenal winger Saka.
Southgate said the teenager suffered “a slight knock” in training yesterday.
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