We will per­sist with dark arts to bring suc­cess, says Ward-Prowse

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Total Football - By Matt Law

play­ers are ready to ditch their nice-guy tags and turn to the dark arts in their at­tempt to trans­form from in­ter­na­tional wannabes into ma­jor tour­na­ment win­ners.

Gareth South­gate’s team strug­gled to over­come Ice­land in the Na­tions League on Sat­ur­day, but se­cured a 1-0 win thanks to Birkir Bjar­na­son’s last-gasp penalty miss. Bjar­na­son’s blun­der may have been in­flu­enced by the fact Eng­land mid­fielder James Ward-Prowse dug his heel into the penalty spot and held up the Ice­land player’s kick. Rather than be­ing con­demned for his ac­tions, Ward-Prowse was hailed a hero on so­cial me­dia by sup­port­ers who have be­come fed up with the na­tional team be­ing beaten by more streetwise op­po­nents.

And it now seems Eng­land are ready to fol­low the win-at-all-costs men­tal­ity of Ar­gentina, Ger­many, France, Italy and Spain as they pre­pare for next sum­mer’s Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship.

Asked whether he de­lib­er­ately tried to dig up the penalty spot with his foot, Ward-Prowse replied: “It wasn’t any dig­ging of the spot, it was more just de­lay­ing the penalty. It was a bit of a mad few min­utes.

We’d just ob­vi­ously scored what we thought was the win­ning goal and then we faced the penalty, so it was more a de­lay­ing tac­tic. Thank­fully it went in our favour.”

The in­ter­ven­tion split pun­dits Roy Keane and Ian Wright, with the for­mer Repub­lic of Ire­land and Manch­ester United mid­fielder say­ing: “It’s cheat­ing. I don’t like to see that.”

But Wright coun­tered: “I don’t mind that from an Eng­land player, I like that dev­il­ment about him. If that hap­pens in a ma­jor com­pe­ti­tion and Eng­land get some­thing from it, I’m not go­ing to com­plain.”

De­lay­ing tac­tic: James Ward-Prowse digs up the penalty spot be­fore Ice­land’s kick

Asked whether Eng­land could ben­e­fit from em­ploy­ing the dark arts, Southamp­ton’s Ward-Prowse added: “It’s some­thing we can all take for­ward. At club level we have de­vel­oped that our­selves as well and we’ve learnt a lot with that. It’s an im­por­tant fac­tor in the mod­ern game.

“I think we maybe had the rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing a bit too nice and we have had to show a bit more ag­gres­sion and a bit of that darker side in or­der to help us win games.”

De­spite hav­ing to rely on Bjar­na­son’s miss to win, Ward-Prowse be­lieves Eng­land showed they could cope with ad­ver­sity af­ter Kyle Walker was sent off while the game was still goal­less.

“It was a re­ally pos­i­tive sign,” Ward-Prowse said. “The way the game went we knew it was go­ing to be dif­fi­cult. Ev­ery­one showed the grit needed to get a re­sult.”

The Ice­land game was the first Ward-Prowse had started for Eng­land and the 25-year-old in­sisted he had never given up hope of forc­ing his way into South­gate’s side.

“Not at all,” he said. “What gets you in the Eng­land squad is play­ing well for your club and that has been my main fo­cus.”

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