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Hart to captain England in Lithuania clash

Enfield (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Gareth Southgate has named Torino goalkeeper Joe Hart as England captain for their World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

Hart, on loan at Torino from Manchester City, will lead England out at Wembley on Sunday instead of Chelsea defender Gary Cahill, who skippered the team in their midweek defeat against Germany.

It is a welcome boost for Hart after he was exiled to Torino by City manager Pep Guardiola earlier this season.

The 29-year-old has been England captain on several occasions in the past and, with Wayne Rooney out of the squad due to injury and lack of first team opportunities with Manchester United, Hart has a chance to stake his claim for the armband in future.

“Joe is our most capped international. He has shown great maturity in the way he has recovered from his own disappointment last summer,” England boss Southgate told reporters on Saturday.

“It’s a good moment for him. He’s playing well for his club and his performances for us have been excellent.

“Some people will question a goalkeeper as being captain but I did it with Jack Butland in the U21s and in the end you are looking for the professionalism and impact during the week, not just on a match-day.”

Unlike many of his predecessors, Southgate isn’t concerned about having a permanent figurehead captain and he will consider his options for each game.

“I did have to think seriously because we have a squad now with some emerging leaders,” Southgate said.

“I’ve talked before about sharing the responsibility around the squad, and even some of the youngest players coming in have been able to talk openly in front of everybody this week, which is a good sign.”

– Ambassadors –

Southgate confirmed Manchester United defender Chris Smalling had been ruled out of Sunday’s match after suffering an injury in the 1-0 loss in Germany.

“He picked up a knock towards the end of the game in Germany. After assessment, he wouldn’t be ready for tomorrow,” he said.

England’s friendly defeat in Dortmund was marred by fans booing the German national anthem and singing unsavoury songs which drew condemnation from Football Association chief Greg Clarke.

Southgate urged England fans to make up for those ugly scenes by respecting a minute’s silence before the Lithuania clash for the victims of last week’s terror attack in London.

“Supporters represent the country when they go away and the majority do that,” he said.

“Unfortunately some were chanting things the other night that were unacceptable but we’d prefer to focus on those that support us well.

“It’s important that (the minute’s silence) is respected. We know how important the team is for the feeling of the nation. 

“It’s a great opportunity for everyone to pay their respects, and to show we go on, not just London but as a country as a whole. 

“That is an attribute of ours as a nation. The supporters are no different to the team, they represent the country. We want them to be ambassadors.”

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