England take on Wales in their final World Cup group stage match on Tuesday; England need just one point to reach the knockout stages while victory will see them qualify as group winners; Southgate is facing calls to rotate his squad but he will not freely hand out caps to fringe players
Tuesday 29 November 2022 19:25, UK
Gareth Southgate says he cannot freely hand out caps to his England fringe players in Tuesday's final World Cup group game with Wales, despite the temptation of rotation.
England are top of Group B with four points and needing one more to secure safe passage into the knockout rounds, but Southgate is facing calls to rotate his squad with qualification all but secured. Only a four-goal defeat to Wales, at the bottom of the group, would see a last-16 spot come under threat.
Southgate has named back-to-back starting line-ups against Iran and United States, meaning there are 15 players in his squad who are yet to start at these finals.
Midfielder Jordan Henderson, who appeared alongside Southgate in his press conference, is rumoured to be one of the changes to the starting line-up, but the England manager hinted there may not be many other areas of rotation.
"That's always a challenge and we [do] have 26 players," Southgate said when asked about keeping the fringe players happy. "But we are at a major tournament, it's not about giving caps out. We want to go as far as we possibly can. Players support each other and some will be disappointed if they're not playing.
"In other camps throughout the year, we try to give people game time where we can, but when you're in a World Cup, you can't be thinking in that way unless you've already qualified and have a game with a different approach.
"We are fortunate we have many professionals who get on with that. I've done that myself by going to a tournament without many minutes at all.
"The [back-up] job is to train well, support the guys and be ready for your moment when it comes. That's been part of our story in the previous two tournaments when the squad have been ready and supported themselves throughout."
When asked about what type of line-up England could expect against Wales, Southgate added: "We want to win football matches. We have to balance freshness with stability, that's always the decision you're making with the team. We have a chance to win the group with a positive result.
"We are going to pick a team that we believe can win the game. That's our priority."
One person who has been rumoured to face rotation is captain Harry Kane, who was an injury doubt against the United States but came through a fruitless 90 minutes up front.
Southgate, however, insists the England captain's fitness is up to standard.
"He's fine with the knock he had," Southgate said. "I don't know why everyone says it's his ankle [that is causing him injury problems], it's his foot.
"There's only Ben White [missing] with illness. So we have everyone available to select from which is a great position to be in. It makes decisions difficult, you want a fully fit squad so that's where we are at."
An England win or draw would knock Wales out of the tournament at the group stages, while Rob Page's side are searching for their first win over their UK neighbours in 34 years.
Southgate admitted England will need to match Wales' "spirit" on Tuesday night as he recognises the extra motivation they will bring to the contest.
"We know they seem to have additional motivation to play against England with what they're saying," Southgate said.
"It's like any two countries whose borders are next to each other. It's a great sporting rivalry. It's no more than that.
"That feeling might not be mutual but I can understand that as well. I live in Yorkshire they feel the same about the rest of England!
"It's going to be a fantastic atmosphere and we are really looking forward to the game. We have to match the spirit of Wales but I'd be disappointed if we didn't do that [anyway]."