MX23RW : Monday, September 24 08:07:39

Gareth Southgate: 'Rotating England squad was right decision'

Southgate: 'Rotating squad was right decision'
© Reuters
Gareth Southgate is happy with his decision to make eight changes to England's starting lineup for the 1-0 defeat to Belgium on Thursday night.

England manager Gareth Southgate has defended his decision to heavily rotate his side for Thursday night's 1-0 World Cup group defeat to Belgium.

The Three Lions made eight changes for the match at the Kaliningrad Stadium, which was effectively a straight shootout for top spot in Group G.

Seven players were given their first starts of the tournament, with Southgate keen to keep his core players fit for the knockout rounds.

Defeat to Belgium ended England's 12-match unbeaten run, though, and there are fears that the momentum that has been steadily building may have been halted.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Southgate insisted that he made the "right decision" in omitting key men such as Harry Kane, Jordan Henderson and the fit-again Dele Alli.

"Whatever happens next week [in the knockout rounds], that was the right decision as far as I'm concerned," he said. "People will say that will only be the right decision if we win but it was the right decision because we could potentially be going into another match that could go into extra time and risking players we didn't need to risk.

"This was a game we wanted to win but the knockout is the biggest game for a decade for us, and we had to make sure our key players were preserved. You have to look at the bigger picture sometimes and make decisions which, in some quarters, might be criticised. But everyone understands - in the dressing room and in the group - what we're trying to do.

"We don't like losing and don't want to lose matches, but the primary objective from the evening we've got. And if we'd put Harry on for 10 minutes and someone had raked his ankle, that would have been ridiculous. The knockout game is the important one. Of course we have a responsibility to the supporters, and the support in the stadium was absolutely outstanding tonight. The support and encouragement from home has been brilliant.

"But when you're a leader and a manager, you have to make decisions which are right for your group to achieve the primary objective. Sometimes those decisions will be criticised. I understand that. But only one person makes that decision with all the full facts and managing a tournament in mind: physically, medically, tactically for the benefit of the group. I'm entirely comfortable with the decision. Sometimes you have to make decisions for the bigger picture."

England now know that they will face Colombia in the first knockout round next Tuesday, while Switzerland or Sweden potentially await in the last eight.

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England midfielder Jordan Henderson in action during his side's international friendly with Spain at Wembley on November 15, 2016
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