They say that being the England manager is an impossible job, but Gareth Southgate is making it look easy. It’s his first major tournament at the helm and he’s making all the right calls at the right times – from his starting eleven and subs to training methods and style. It’s been a long time coming, but the country finally has a leader they can believe in. Nothing exemplified that more than Harry Kane’s late goal against Tunisia – the first time in recent memory an England team has scored a last-minute winner at a World Cup. It typified the spirit within the squad and gave the team what they richly deserved from the performance: three precious points.
And now, with the leaked team news that Marcus Rashford is likely to start ahead of Raheem Sterling alongside Harry Kane, Southgate has made another big call. You can’t say he doesn’t deserve it, though. The 20-year-old Rashford didn’t have the most inspired time at Old Trafford last season, but for England he looks alive and kicking. For that, I would personally like to thank José Mourinho for keeping him so fresh. He doesn’t look like he’s played a game all season.
Panama will pose a different prospect to Tunisia. For what they lack in world-class talent, they make up for in experience with the squad boasting an average of 59 international caps between each of them. Román Torres, their warrior at the back, is the player they look to for inspiration – not only for his presence in the heart of defence, but his goals, for it was him that secured their place in Russia when he popped up in the 88th minute against Costa Rica in October 2017.
Hernán Darío Gómez’s side are likely to sit back against England and soak up the pressure, which Southgate will hope to eventually make the most of with the anticipated changes. In addition to Rashford, it has been indicated that Ruben Loftus-Cheek will be taking the place of Dele Alli, who is still suffering from a minor thigh strain. In the pursuit of goals to match Belgium’s numbers, it’s a smart call. Southgate knows that, if his team have any hope of topping the group, this is the game to enhance their goal difference.
A comprehensive win at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium would be ideal for England players and fans to sail through the group stages on a high but, in truth, any type of victory will do. For the Three Lions, it is about continuing to show commitment, confidence and a will to win. Something we all now have in our manager.