Gareth Southgate admits he has left himself open to stinging criticism if England crash out of the World Cup on Tuesday.
Having made eight changes in the defeat by Belgium, the England manager realises he will be in for a rough ride if his side do not book a quarter-final slot with victory over Colombia.Had his team won Group G they would have faced Japan.
‘We had to make a decision we felt gave us the best opportunity preparing the whole squad for that game and that’s what we tried to do,’ said Southgate.
‘Of course, if we don’t win, I understand people would say whatever about the Belgium game, but for me that was the right thing to do and you’ve got to take decisions you believe are the right ones.’
Southgate also revealed that Harry Kane fully accepted the decision to bench him in Kaliningrad, even though the Tottenham striker wanted to play and add to his five-goal tally in the race to be World Cup’s top scorer.
Southgate, who wanted to keep Kane fresh and free from injury, said: ‘I felt the need to sit with him, but he was brilliant. He totally understood.
‘He said, “Look, I know everyone says I want the Golden Boot. Of course it’s something I want to do. But the main thing is getting the team through the first knockout”.
‘He was excellent, showed real leadership and understanding of the big picture.’
Southgate also issued a dressing room rallying cry to his players in the aftermath of the defeat by Belgium. He ordered his players not to dwell on the loss but instead maintain the positivity garnered from the impressive victories over Tunisia and Panama, saying that bouncing back from disappointments is the mark of the best teams in the world.
Southgate wants his players to trust in the process, believing that resting his starters to keep them fresh for the knockout stages was the correct decision.
The team’s video analysts have already put together detailed dossiers and footage of Colombia to ensure players are as best prepared as possible for a game Southgate has dubbed this country’s ‘biggest for a decade’.
Dele Alli will be fit and raring to go after fully recovering from a thigh injury that kept him out of the games against Panama and Belgium. Alli started in the opening game against Tunisia, during which he picked up the injury, and is expected to start at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on Tuesday.