Toney in Southgate's thoughts, but beating Ukraine the priority for England

By Sports Desk March 25, 2023

Gareth Southgate is considering starting Ivan Toney in Sunday's Euro 2024 qualifier against Ukraine, but picking the best possible team to win the game is the top priority.

Toney was called up by Southgate for this month's fixtures, despite the Brentford striker facing a potential ban for breaching the Football Association's betting rules.

The 27-year-old was an unused substitute in Friday's 2-1 win against Italy, as he was in September's Nations League draw against Germany on his only previous call-up.

Southgate is hoping to give Toney some minutes against Ukraine at Wembley, but not at the expense of selecting a player more suited to starting the match.

"Ivan Toney has been very good. We really like him, and he's very much in our thoughts," Southgate said at Saturday's pre-match news conference.

"The numbers we've got with us now, there's always the duel objective. There's the desire to see players, but we're in a qualifying group, so the priority is to always win the game."

Southgate also confirmed Jordan Henderson is available after recovering from illness, while Jude Bellingham is fit after limping off late on against Italy.

Full-back Reece James has returned to club side Chelsea after sustaining a knock, but Southgate decided against calling up a replacement.

"We've been training with this group all week, so to call someone from outside the group would potentially be quite complicated," Southgate said.

"We have no idea where they might be or what their training load has been over the past few days. 

"So, if we were going to do that at this point, we would do it with the Under-21s, but they've got a game today, and we think we've just got enough to get through tomorrow's game."

Southgate is the third manager to win 50 games while in charge of England after Walter Winterbottom (78) and Alf Ramsey (69).

But rather than bask in that personal achievement, the England manager is focused on making it two wins from two in qualifying for Germany 2024.

"It means we have the chance to make it 51 tomorrow, it's as simple as that," he said. "The past and what we've done up until now is irrelevant. 

"I'm just focused on tomorrow's game. We need to win and need to be on six points when we leave Wembley tomorrow. 

"If we're going to be considered a top team, we need to back up the performance and result that we showed the other night."

Ukraine are playing their first qualifying fixture of the campaign amid a backdrop of ongoing conflict back in their homeland, which was invaded by Russia last February.

"They're a proud group of players," Southgate said. "They are totally committed to bringing enjoyment to their public.

"We of course have huge sympathy with what's going on, but tomorrow is a game of football and we're fully focused on trying to win the game."

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