24 March 2024

Gareth Southgate hopeful Ivan Toney can make most of chance against Belgium

24 March 2024

England manager Gareth Southgate hopes Ivan Toney will grab his big chance to prove his Euro 2024 credentials against Belgium.

The place as Harry Kane’s back-up in Germany is up for grabs after Dominic Calvert-Lewin filled that role at the last Euros and then Callum Wilson did at the World Cup 15 months ago.

This time it looks a straight shootout between Aston Villa frontman Ollie Watkins and Brentford’s Toney, with the former playing the full 90 minutes as he won his 10th cap against Brazil.

Toney watched Saturday’s 1-0 loss from the bench and will get his chance against Belgium on Tuesday.

The 28-year-old’s only cap to date came as a substitute against Ukraine this time last year and he is looking to make up for lost time having returned from an eight-month Football Association betting ban in January.

Asked how big an opportunity Tuesday could be for Toney, Southgate said: “You can’t hide that fact. He knows.

“It would be his first start, so you’ve got to bear that in mind as well.

“But with England that’s the landscape, you don’t get hundreds of opportunities. I think every player recognises that’s the world we live in.

“But he’s a confident guy, he comes in on the back of a good run of form with his club. He’s going to be on the field on Tuesday, no question.”

Southgate says Toney’s quality from the penalty spot is “definitely a great asset to have”, as well as highlighting his confidence and sometimes underappreciated all-round game.

“That swagger, that self-belief is crucial – all of the top forward players have it,” the England boss said.

“I think sometimes the quality of his football can be underestimated.

“His passing, his link play. We’re still getting to know all of those strengths because until you work with a player more regularly you don’t know them inside out.

“You look at him being a big guy but he’s not just a target man. His quality in link play is very good as well.”

Toney’s opportunity comes as Southgate joked he is “looking at who’s left” to face Belgium, with Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire and Sam Johnstone following Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka in withdrawing from the squad.

The England boss also has to manage minutes in what has ended up being a “bizarre camp” for the Wembley friendlies against the sides fifth and fourth in FIFA’s world rankings.

Southgate would have loved the chance to see Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield against such high-calibre opponents, but a knee injury meant he instead watched Saturday’s loss from the stands.

“He wanted to come to the game,” the England boss said. “He’s obviously in the latter stage of rehab with Liverpool so it wasn’t quite as easy for him to dip in like Luke Shaw did (to St George’s Park last week).

“The midfield thing we’ve seen, but we’ve missed two opportunities with September and now this one that is really frustrating because there’s so much that’s unknown about it at the minute.

“As you know, I’ve liked the idea for a long time but we’re going to be trialling it when we haven’t seen it in a really high level game. So we’ll just have to see where we can go with it.”

Southgate has all manner of headaches to balance before naming his provisional Euro 2024 squad just after the end of the Premier League season.

Jude Bellingham is sure to be one of the first names on the list if fit – but that is easier said than done if the Real Madrid star continues to get fouled as much as he did against Brazil.

“He is a top player and they’re an aggressive side,” Southgate said. “In a competitive game there would have been more cards than there were tonight so that would have curbed that. But that’s a good experience for him to have to go through.

“I thought he handled it well tonight. He’s ended up getting a yellow card that could have been the other way several times.

“The bigger thing tonight was that he was cramping up. He’s missed a lot of football recently so physically he’s still getting back to that top level.”

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