Football

Butland relishes battle for No. 1 spot

Stoke goalkeeper says race for England spot good preparation for Russia

England goalkeeper Jack Butland has hailed the competition to be the Three Lions' No. 1 at the World Cup and believes there are still four or five contenders fighting to be manager Gareth Southgate's first choice in Russia.

The Stoke City stopper will start in goal for England in their friendly against Italy at Wembley tomorrow morning (Singapore time) and is one of four goalkeepers in Southgate's squad alongside Jordan Pickford, Joe Hart and Nick Pope.

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Everton's Pickford played in last Friday's 1-0 win over Holland and impressed with his distribution, an important attribute for Southgate, who wants the team to play out from the back and control possession.

"I thought Jordan played really well last Friday... And it's motivation for us all," Butland said.

"It's a great way to go into a World Cup. Whoever is selected will be coming in off a battle, which is what you want. It's probably a four- or five-horse race still."

Pickford has also received the backing of England's goalkeeping legend Peter Shilton, who wrote in his Daily Mail column that although the 24-year-old made some mistakes in the Holland game, his confidence gives him the edge.

Southgate said last night: "No (Pickford) didn't (do anything wrong against (Holland).

"At the beginning of the week, we decided that's what we were going to do, give them both a game for the experience."

Southgate also did not rule Hart out of starting against Tunisia in England's first match in the World Cup on June 19 (Singapore time), reported Reuters.

"Joe's professionalism has been brilliant, he has always performed well for us and we had the best defensive record in Europe in qualifying," Southgate said. "Even though he knew he wouldn't be playing in the games this week, he has been a fantastic influence to the rest of the players and the other 'keepers."

Though Southgate is likely to field a much-changed side against the Italians, he will not deviate from his preferred three-man central defence, with John Stones expected to keep his place in the backline.

Stones has found playing time hard to come by for Manchester City of late, but is key to the way England are trying to play under Southgate, given his ability to pick a pass, reported AFP.

"It's difficult," the23-year-old said of his lack of game time at club level.

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"Every player wants to play week-in, week-out, but I've had games here and there.

"I felt sharp and back to myself (against the Dutch) and I want to build on that for Tuesday. We created a lot of chances from playing out (from the back) and that's a massive thing.

"Everyone's on board with it. If the odd mistake is made, you've got to stay mentally strong and not shy away from it."

After their World Cup opener against Tunisia, England face other Group G rivals Panama (June 24) and Belgium (June 29).

For the Italians, who failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years, the Wembley friendly will give interim coach Luigi di Biagio a chance to look at some youngsters, following last Friday's 2-0 friendly loss to Argentina.

AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, 19, is expected to take over from Gianluigi Buffon, who came out of international retirement to play in the previous friendly.

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