Gareth Southgate says England must focus on Panama and forget VAR verdicts

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England have taken concerns over video assistant referees to FIFA and boss Gareth Southgate has been reassured about the system ahead of the team’s shot at World Cup progress against Panama.

A week that started with a last-gasp winner against Tunisia ends with a shot at reaching the knockout phase. Victory against the Central Americans on Sunday would be enough to assure the Three Lions of qualification from Group G before facing Belgium.

Southgate played down the controversial publication of assistant manager Steve Holland’s training notes ahead of facing Panama, as well as tempering concerns over the sweltering heat in Nizhny Novgorod and officiating in Russia.

Questions over VAR only increased after Monday’s 2-1 win against Tunisia, but the England manager is satisfied with FIFA’s clarification after the Football Association went to the world governing body.

“Dan (Ashworth, FA technical director) has had correspondence with the head of the referees, so we’re very comfortable with the responses we had,” Southgate said on the eve of facing Panama.

“My own view is most things that have been referred to the VAR have ended up with the correct decisions.

“I suppose there’s always this element of which bits are going to be refereed and which bits aren’t that seems to be open to interpretation.

“It really isn’t something we can control. We’ve just got to accept whatever decisions are given by the referee on the field or the VAR officials.

Harry Kane
England’s Harry Kane was repeatedly grappled by defenders in the win over Tunisia (Owen Humphreys/PA)

“A penalty went against us, but our response was good, we kept our discipline, we kept our focus on the game and that’s what we’ve got to make sure we do.

“Emails were exchanged, and Dan asked for some clarity and we were happy with the responses. But no big issues, really.”

England looked to have strong penalty claims against Tunisia when Harry Kane was twice hauled over in the penalty area, but Southgate is content for now.

The heat could be as much as an issue as refereeing as England look to reach the last 16 in sweltering Nizhny Novgorod.

Panama arrived in the city on Friday and trained at the stadium on the eve of the game, whereas the Three Lions’ first taste of playing in the energy-sapping heat and humidity – considerably different to their Repino base – will come on Sunday.

England’s Kyle Walker and Dele Alli during England training
England’s Kyle Walker and Dele Alli during training (Owen Humphreys/PA)

“When I came to the FIFA workshop, they were quite keen for teams not to train at the stadiums to protect the pitches.

“It makes sense for us to train earlier in the day, be able to recover and then travel.

“So, really, it’s about the flow of the day and getting our training done to leave maximum time for physical recovery before kick-off.

“We kick off at 3pm tomorrow, so if we train tonight there’s less time between that session and the game.

“The heat is of course different in different parts of the country and we just have to adapt to that. There’s no physiological benefit to training in the heat the couple of weeks before and thinking there’ll be any adaptation.

“We’ve just got to cope with that and I feel that it is important that we are a team that keep possession of the ball, so in the heat that will be key in the moments when we need to attack with the ball and the moments where maybe we rest with possession.”

Southgate says England will have “22 players available” on Sunday, with the thigh strain sustained by Dele Alli against Tunisia likely to see Ruben Loftus-Cheek come in.

The emergence of assistant Holland’s training note – captured by a photographer – led to talk that Marcus Rashford could replace Raheem Sterling against Panama.

It is a match the manager is not taking lightly as England prepared to face the side ranked 55th in the world.

“We’ve seen already the difficulty big countries in terms of rankings have had in terms breaking down lower-ranked teams,” Southgate added.

“That’s been a theme right the way throughout, so there’s no way there’s any complacency in the way we’ve prepared for the game.

“The situation in the group is obviously a healthy one for us, but we have got to focus on our performance.”

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