England head coach Gareth Southgate answers a question from the media during a press conference. England take on Panama in Nizhny Novgorod in a group G match today. Photo: AP Photo

Gareth Southgate has warned his players not to be caught up in their own video referee furore as he hinted that he may stick with Raheem Sterling up front and leave Marcus Rashford on the bench against Panama today.

The England manager revealed that the team have been briefed to try and concede the least number of free-kicks in and around the penalty box and that the message had been re-inforced now that the video assistant referee is looking on.

England take on Panama knowing that victory will see them qualify for the last 16, after Belgium beat Tunisia 5-2 yesterday — but Southgate dismissed the notion that team had been leaked last week when Steve Holland’s training notes were photographed and indicated that changes would be minimal, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek replacing the injured Dele Alli.

Despite VAR missing two fouls on Harry Kane against Tunisia on Monday, Southgate said: ‘We talk a lot about avoiding conceding fouls. I studied Germany a lot from previous World Cups and one of the big things was they didn’t concede fouls in their third of the pitch. They were incredibly low numbers. You don’t really want to invite pressure if you can avoid it.’

England have committed the joint-lowest number of fouls per game in the tournament so far, suggesting Southgate’s message has got through. Southgate insisted that he would be largely sticking with the team that beat Tunisia after professing himself well satisfied with the performance.

‘Let’s be frank, we won the other night, we played well, so we are not going to make many changes, he said. ‘Their manager knows we have to make one. But [naming the team] is a personal choice. If I did it for this game having not done it for any others, it would probably be seen as disrespectful to the opponent so I’d be in another storm!

VAR is already proving controversial at this year’s World Cup. Picture: EPA

‘The picture wasn’t even the team. The front sheet [of Holland’s training notes] is always the runners and riders in training and behind that all the changes we’ll make in the session.

‘I totally understand the media have a role to report the news. My only observation is that it’s definitely an advantage for us or the opposition if you know the tactics of the other team. But it’s not the job of the media to protect that.

‘From our point of view, I don’t expect the media to be supporters of us in terms of the way they work. They’re here to work. I know they want us to do well. That’s been clear through the tournament. The guys have to find stories and produce content. The other day was a list of 23 players and people have taken something from it which probably isn’t correct. But no drama.’

If England do win, it will be only the third time they have won their opening games in major tournaments after World Cups in 1982 and 2006.

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