Eng­land turn to next gen­er­a­tion for Croa­tia match

'There’s a lot of great young play­ers out there. They’re so de­ter­mined to play'

Gulf Times Sport - - FOOTBALL -

Just three months on from the bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment of los­ing a first World Cup semi-fi­nal for 28 years, Eng­land visit Croa­tia to­day in the Na­tions League seek­ing not only re­venge, but also a long-term so­lu­tion to a familiar short­com­ing.

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 semi-fi­nal 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.

“I looked at the Le­ices­ter squad and saw Harry and Jamie as reg­u­lars in the Eng­land set up. I thought that is where I want to be, that is where I want to get to,” said Mad­di­son, who has scored three goals and pro­vided two as­sists in eight Premier League ap­pear­ances.

Mount is still a Chelsea player, but af­ter scor­ing 13 goals on loan at Vitesse Arn­hem last sea­son, is en­joy­ing an­other fruit­ful loan spell with Derby un­der for­mer Eng­land and Chelsea mid­fielder Frank Lam­pard. “He can be top, top level be­cause he’s 19 and plays with abil­ity and qual­ity. Tech­ni­cally he’s bril­liant,” said Lam­pard.

Mount has al­ready shown his abil­ity in an Eng­land shirt as he was named player of the tour­na­ment in win­ning the 2017 Un­der-19 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships. San­cho got the same award at the Euro­pean Un­der-17 cham­pi­onships last year, as well as be­ing part of the squad that won the Un­der-17 World Cup, al­though his par­tic­i­pa­tion was lim­ited af­ter be­ing re­called by Dort­mund half­way through the tour­na­ment to play for the first team.

“The growth in Eng­land at the mo­ment is crazy,” added San­cho. “There’s a lot of great young play­ers out there. They’re so de­ter­mined to play. The Cham­pi­ons League is the great­est stage, so I hope the young play­ers reach their po­ten­tial and en­joy it too.”

Eng­land have also won the 2017 Un­der-20 World Cup and the pres­ti­gious Un­der-21 Toulon tour­na­ment for the past three years. The trick for South­gate, hav­ing re­cently signed a new con­tract un­til 2022, is to har­ness that po­ten­tial into a fu­ture Mo­dric.

(Reuters)

Croa­t­ian play­ers Luka Mo­dric (left), Ivan Rakitic (right) with coach Zlatko Dalic dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion in Ri­jeka, Croa­tia, yes­ter­day.

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