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England boss Southgate defends worth of ‘dead’ Iceland tie

London (AFP) – England manager Gareth Southgate has insisted a ‘dead’ Nations League match against Iceland remains a valuable exercise ahead of next year’s European Championships despite the concerns of clubs over possible injuries to players. 

Both teams will kick-off at Wembley on Wednesday unable to go any further in this year’s tournament, with England’s 2-0 loss away to Belgium on Sunday ending their hopes of reaching the Nations League finals after they finished third in the inaugural edition.

Meanwhile Iceland, who knocked England in the last 16 out of Euro 2016, with a stunning 2-1 win — a result that led to the resignation of then England manager Roy Hodgson —  were relegated from the top tier last month.

But with the Euros delayed until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic, Southgate has urged those selected to make a case for retaining their places in the England set-up.

“In terms of Iceland, it’s still a game that gives opportunities for people to cement a place in the team or in the squad,” he said.

“Again, we’ll find out a lot now because for sure there’ll be a lot of pressure from some clubs on their own players. That’s what we live with consistently.”

The former England international added: “But we’ve got players that want to play for England and we have pride in the way we play and we want to finish the game well.”

Manchester United defender Harry Maguire is available after suspension, although the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, James Ward-Prowse and Marcus Rashford remain injured.

“It’s obvious throughout the autumn we’ve been missing so many players in every camp,” said Southgate.

“But I’m focused on the players that were here because the players that were here gave absolutely everything and there were some excellent individual performances.”

Meanwhile Southgate insisted England were not far from matching Europe’s, and thereby the world’s, leading football nations.

“I think we’ve seen that there isn’t much between ourselves and Belgium,” he said.

“I think there are some other outstanding teams around Europe. France have obviously qualified against Portugal, who are another top side. It’s so competitive.

“You know, four European teams made the last four of the World Cup. Three different ones qualified for the last four of the last Nations League.

“It looks like three different ones again will qualify for this Nations League. That sums up how competitive Europe is.

“We’re a team who I believe have improved across the autumn, having had 10 months without playing.”

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