As the World Cup gathers steam England manager Gareth Southgate believes that there are things more important in life than a World Cup football match.
In the England press conference before their Round of 16 tie against Colombia, Southgate defended his decision to allow Fabian Delph to go back home to be with his wife who is expecting their baby. “my father’s generation and his father’s generation might not agree with me but I genuinely think that player’s family lives are more important than football”.
The Manchester City man has been one of those players whose adaptability have allowed England to be fluid in their play through the group stages. “Fabian is probably now feeding her a lot of curry to speed up the process” Southgate said to laughter from the packed press horde inside the Spartak Moscow stadium.
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England face Colombia having not won a knock out round match at the World Cup since 2002. To the manager “This represents a great opportunity for this group of players to write their own history”.
Southgate showed remarkable control not to be drawn into looking beyond Colombia. “It is utterly disrespectful to start thinking ahead when we have really difficult opponents in front of us. That the so called big names have gone home means that those left are actually still quite strong. We are only focused on Colombia and will only discuss them with this group of players”.
England have been knocked out of tournaments often on penalty kicks, Southgate himself missing his kick during the 1996 European Championships. How will his team deal with this situation?
“We have done a lot of studying and done a lot of practise with regards to penalties” Southgate says confidently. “Not just in the abilities of the players but in terms of how many high pressure kicks some have taken in the past. However, there is a lot of football left to be played before we get to penalties and we aim to do enough to get through without going to penalties. Should we need to, then we are also ready”.
Dele Alli who missed the last two group games through injury is fit and ready to play, the Manager said. “Dele has trained very well and is very fit. He could have been available for the Belgium match but we did not need to risk him for that”.
England, according to Southgate are preparing for James Rodriguez to play and have contingency plans should he not play. “All our players are going to be needed in this match as we must not allow Colombia room to play the way they want to”.
20 years ago, both sides met at the World Cup at the group stages with Darren Anderton and David Beckham the scorers in the 2-0 win.