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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 September 2018

Gareth Southgate prepares to experiment as England face Costa Rica ahead of 2018 World Cup

Alexander-Arnold in line for his debut while a host of Yorkshire natives are set to play in the Leeds match

England manager Gareth Southgate will have a final chance to run the rule over his squad before departing for Russia. Alex Livesey / Getty Images
England manager Gareth Southgate will have a final chance to run the rule over his squad before departing for Russia. Alex Livesey / Getty Images

They may seem a particularly unwanted blast from England’s past. Costa Rica were their final group-game opponents in the 2014 World Cup. Roy Hodgson’s side may have imagined it would be a chance to book their place in the knockout stages.

Instead, while Costa Rica had already secured their spot in the last 16, England were eliminated before a stalemate in Belo Horizonte. Hodgson fielded a second-string side in what proved Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard’s last internationals.

A reunion on Tuesday night is England’s final game on home soil before they leave for Russia. But this will be less about goodbyes than hellos.

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“Trent Alexander-Arnold will get a debut,” manager Gareth Southgate said. If Kieran Trippier’s excellent display in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Nigeria puts the Tottenham Hotspur man in pole position to occupy the right wing-back role, Southgate is adamant the 19-year-old Liverpool player could displace him.

“I would have no qualms of putting him into the opening game,” he said. “He is here on merit, his quality has been top and he has settled into the group really well. It is a huge moment for him, but fully deserved.”

That willingness to consider everyone has underpinned Southgate’s approach. Selection no longer seems the closed shop it felt under some of his predecessors.

If one way to prepare for a tournament is to fine-tune the first XI, Southgate appears to have embraced the alternative approach of involving everyone.

“One of the keys of us getting through these two matches was to try and make sure every member of our squad gets a significant member of game time," he said. "You want to know who is in form and any time a player has 10 minutes or 90 minutes on the field, they have an opportunity to make a statement in the way they play."

While Jordan Pickford seems to have won the battle to be the first-choice goalkeeper, Jack Butland will start on Tuesday. The uncapped Nick Pope is likely to replace him at some stage but the Stoke City goalkeeper is determined to take his chance.

“I will keep fighting and I'll pushing and staking my claim to be the No 1,” he said.

A meeting at Elland Road in Leeds is a rare England home game away from Wembley and Southgate has pledged to field five Yorkshiremen. As Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Fabian Delph and Jamie Vardy all hail from the county, he has enough to choose from. As only Walker seems a certainty to start against Tunisia in Volgograd, they have plenty to prove.

Sadly, it will be the Rose family’s last chance to see the left-back in action in the flesh. A victim of racist abuse when representing his country at Under-21 level in Serbia has decided not to take his relatives to the World Cup. The Russian record of racism was a deterrent.

“I sympathise 100 per cent,” Southgate said. “It was very clear he felt let down by the authorities, which was very sad to hear. Fines seem to have not had any impact.”

He has picked a squad he described as “one of the most diverse that has gone to a World Cup” and added that racism is “completely unacceptable. We have this situation because of a lack of education, generally speaking. We are decades into having a multi-racial society, and we are far from perfect. And other nations are sadly still not at the same stage that we are.”

Finding the appropriate response is difficult. Southgate is wary of the possible repercussions.

“In an idealistic world people would say to walk off the pitch but that means we would be thrown out of the tournament which many people would agree with,” he said. “I don't think the players want that."

England were expelled on footballing grounds in 2014, their results too wretched to stay at the World Cup. Now they are looking for a lengthier stay, even if it means dealing with bigotry.

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