Football

We shouldn’t have played Nations League games: England boss Southgate

England boss questions timing of Nations League matches during pre-season

England manager Gareth Southgate said Nations League matches should not have gone ahead during pre-season for most major European leagues, after his side laboured to a 0-0 draw away to Denmark yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Southgate's squad were hit by a raft of injuries and off-field problems, after Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood were sent home on Monday for breachingCovid-19 protocols following Saturday's 1-0 win in Iceland.

The pair reportedly invited girls back to the team hotel in Reykjavik in what Southgate described as "unacceptable" behaviour, which would have resulted in their dismissal from the squad even if infection from coronavirus had not been a risk.

Faced with limited options, Southgate experimented with a 3-4-3 formation that struggled to get the best out of the front trio of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho.

The England boss also handed international debuts to four players. Wolverhampton Wanderers defender Conor Coady and Leeds United midfielder Kalvin Phillips started, while Aston Villa's Jack Grealish and Arsenal's Ainsley Maitland-Niles came on as substitutes.

However, it was a lack of match fitness with the English Premier League not starting until this weekend that he cited as the reason for such a sharp contrast between England's performances over the past week and their free-scoring form in qualifying for Euro 2020 before the coronavirus shutdown.

"The physical conditioning of the players was a huge factor," said Southgate.

"We shouldn't have been playing. It doesn't work for the clubs and it doesn't work for international football."

Denmark, who lost 2-0 to Belgium in their Nations League opener at the weekend, came closest to opening the scoring before half-time.

A neat turn from Christian Eriksen put Kasper Dolberg in on goal, but the Nice striker's shot was well-saved by Jordan Pickford at the near post.

England improved after the break with the introduction of midfielder Mason Mount, but clear chances were still few and far between. The best opportunities to break the deadlock for both sides came in the final 10 minutes.

First, Eriksen blazed over from Yussuf Poulsen's header. His former Tottenham Hotspur teammate Kane then thought he had notched a stoppage-time winner as he rounded Kasper Schmeichel and fired goalwards, only for Mathias Jorgensen to clear the ball off the line.

Despite the dour draw, Southgate was pleased with his players' effort, but added that Foden and Greenwood would need to regain his trust before he could consider them for selection with the national team again.

"They know what has happened is unacceptable," said Southgate.

"They need to understand the expectations of being an England player. We need to build trust, but you've got to help young people get back on their feet."

Belgium's 5-1 win over Iceland in Brussels, where Michy Batshuayi scored twice, moves them to the top of League A, Group 2 ahead of next month's trip to England. - AFP, REUTERS

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