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Gareth Southgate calls for England to be ‘ruthless’ against San Marino

Gareth Southgate file photo
(Image credit: Nick Potts)

Gareth Southgate wants England to be “ruthless” when they face minnows San Marino in their opening World Cup qualifier at Wembley on Thursday.

The fixture conjures memories of Davide Gualtieri’s goal inside nine seconds against Graham Taylor’s side in November 1993. England went on to win the game 7-1, but failed to qualify for the World Cup in the United States.

Boss Southgate accepts his men will see plenty of possession against the lowest-ranked team in international football and must make the most of it.

“We should enjoy playing with the ball, but need to be ruthless with it,” he said at a pre-match press conference.

  • San Marino (home) - March 25
  • Albania (away) - March 28
  • Poland (home) - March 31

“To have the creativity to score goals we have got to be positive and say it is a game which we can enjoy.”

Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka will miss the match as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury, but it is hoped he will be available for the fixtures against Albania and Poland.

Marcus Rashford has not trained with the rest of the squad as he continues to work indoors to rehabilitate a foot injury sustained in Manchester United’s 1-0 win against AC Milan in the Europa League last Thursday.

“They are doubtful,” Southgate said. “I would say Marcus (is) more doubtful than Bukayo at the moment, but we are going to assess them.

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“Marcus has been very keen to be with us. He obviously wasn’t with us so much in the autumn.”

Thursday night will mark Southgate’s 50th game in charge of the senior side.

“It has been an incredible life experience and a huge honour – but I am looking forward now,” said Southgate, who guided England to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

“We are building for the three games this week.”

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Mason Mount is relishing another opportunity to impress.

The Chelsea midfielder said: “Every camp you grow in confidence. It feels like yesterday when I made my debut and it has gone so quick.

“You learn more at every camp, and I just want to keep getting better and that is the thing, both personally and as a group.”

Southgate accepts captain Harry Kane will want to “play every minute” in pursuit of more international goals, but knows he must carefully manage the workload of the Tottenham striker.

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“It is brilliant we have got a captain who wants to play every minute of every game, but we have to be mindful he had extra-time last Thursday (in the Europa League) and then another high-intensity game on Sunday,” Southgate said.

“But we have that situation with a lot of the players really so we have to manage the fixtures correctly, and have done that through training this week.

“We need to be as fresh for the games against Albania and Poland, but that is not an unusual challenge for us as a coaching team.”

Southgate offered his support to any players subjected to “unacceptable” abuse on social media.

Jude Bellingham in training

Jude Bellingham was the subject of racist abuse last week (Michael Regan/PA)

England teenager Jude Bellingham revealed he had been the target of racist abuse, with both Borussia Dortmund and the Football Association issuing statements in support.

Southgate said: “It is a very complex situation in terms of what action the players might take, because of course it is a brilliant tool for communicating with the fans.

“Especially in a time when you can’t interact with the fans in the stadiums, to lose all contact with the fans is not something as a game we want.

“Equally if that interaction is bringing that negativity into your life and that abuse, then nobody wants to put up with that.

“We have said in the past we need stricter legislation around those sites, which is also a complex issue.”

The England squad will meet on Wednesday evening to discuss whether to continue taking the knee.

There has been growing debate around the pre-match anti-racism gesture, with Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha recently becoming the first Premier League player to stand since play resumed last June.

“I have spoken to the leadership group (within the squad) about this and have asked them to talk to the other players,” Southgate said.

“I think it is a good process for them to hear each others’ views, that is part of how we educate ourselves in all these different issues.

“The one thing we are very clear on is that we will be unified in whatever we do, and if there is any doubt then I think we would take the knee.”