- Phil Foden has played only 19 minutes for England in Qatar
- Manager Southgate insists Manchester City star poised for vital role
- Three Lions on verge of last 16 prior to Wales encounter
Gareth Southgate is vowing gifted forward Phil Foden will “play a big part” for England at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
Foden has eight goals and three assists from 19 appearances – 14 starts – for Manchester City this season, but the pair of Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka have been preferred in Qatar.
The talk around Foden quietened following England’s 6-2 rout of IR Iran in their opening game, when the 22-year-old replaced Mason Mount for the final 19 minutes. But the debate over the player’s non-inclusion reopened following a scoreless draw with USA when England were roundly criticised for a perceived paucity of invention.
Foden primarily occupies a role on the left of the front three for Premier League champions Manchester City, but played from the right when he scored a hat-trick in a 6-3 victory over Manchester United last month. He has filled a number of positions across 19 England appearances.
“There are different possibilities: he can play on either flank, or as a false nine, if we chose to do that,” said Southgate. “He can play off a striker, although he doesn’t do that as much at club level, so that’s maybe applicable to certain games or certain moments.
“He’s a very flexible player in terms of the attributes he has and where he can have an impact. He’s a goal threat, which is also very important.”
England have never met a fellow British side at a World Cup but Southgate is playing down the significance of the home nation rivalry with Wales. The teams clashed at the UEFA Euro in 2016, England recovering from a Gareth Bale goal to win 2-1. Indeed, in six meetings since 2004 – after a 20-year hiatus – Wales haven’t so much as managed a draw, with Bale’s free-kick in Lens the only time they’ve breached the English defence in those games.
Asked if tackling Wales on the global stage carried additional pressure, Southgate said: “None more than normal. We recognise this is a game with a lot of focus because it’s a local derby, but we’re England – everyone wants to beat us.
“There are high expectations every time we’re on the pitch. We’ve got to focus on playing as well as we can, while showing the composure and ruthlessness needed to win.”