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England boss Southgate eyes 'crucial' win over Ukraine despite 'huge sympathy'

England boss Southgate eyes 'crucial' win over Ukraine despite 'huge sympathy'

March 25, 2023 (AFP)

Gareth Southgate said England had "huge sympathy" with the people of Ukraine ahead of Sunday's "crucial" European Championship qualifier between the two countries at Wembley.

England launched their qualification campaign with an impressive 2-1 win away to reigning champions Italy on Thursday, with manager Southgate urging his side to back up that performance this weekend.

Sunday's match is Ukraine's first of the qualification campaign and comes with the country still in the thick of war following Russia's invasion last year.

"They (Ukraine) are very proud," Southgate told a pre-match news conference on Saturday.

"We saw that right at the beginning of the war when they went to Scotland for the (World Cup) play-offs and Wales.

"They are a very proud group of players, you can see that. Totally committed to bringing enjoyment to their public."

He added: "We, of course, have huge sympathy with what's going on and support for what's going on, but tomorrow's a game of football and we are fully focused on trying to win the game. It's a crucial game in the qualifying group."

England are without Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount and Nick Pope who all withdrew from the initial squad, while Chelsea full-back Reece James pulled out on Saturday with what the Football Association said was an "ongoing issue".

Luke Shaw is suspended after being sent off against Italy.

Southgate said he was optimistic England had "just about got enough to get through the game", as he downplayed concerns over the fitness of midfielders Jordan Henderson, Jude Bellingham and Kalvin Phillips.

"They're all good," he said. "With Kalvin, (Italy) was his first 90 for a little while. He had 90 at Bristol City in the cup, so we'll just have to assess freshness as much as anything.

"But that's the same with the whole group. It is that time of the year and we have got to get the balance right of continuity, consistency, but also freshness."

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