Sport

England’s Southgate has no qualms using Saka and Rashford in shootouts

Gareth Southgate will not hesitate to select Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka to take penalties if England’s last-16 tie against Senegal goes to a shootout.

Thoughts will go back to England’s defeat by Italy in the Euro 2020 final if they are level with Senegal at the end of extra time on Sunday night. Rashford and Saka failed from the spot then and were targeted with racist abuse on social media.

It will take immense mental strength for them to step up again, although Rashford has said he would relish the chance to take a penalty during the World Cup and Saka has been in good form from 12 yards for Arsenal. That has been noted by Southgate, who steered clear of any negativity when asked whether he had doubts about calling upon the duo for spot-kick duties.

“None at all,” England’s head coach said. “Marcus’s stats would be among the best in the world on penalty taking, and Bukayo is now taking them more regularly with his club. They’re both in a good space with that.”

Nothing has been left to chance by Southgate, whose attention to detail proved pivotal when 22 years of English woe in shootouts was ended by victory over Colombia in the 2018 World Cup.

Preparation could be crucial against Senegal, who have won two shootouts against Egypt this year – the final of the Africa Cup of Nations and their World Cup playoff. One question is whether Southgate plans to bring players off the bench to take penalties. He did that against Colombia, introducing Rashford seven minutes before the end of extra time. However, Southgate was criticised for bringing on Rashford and Jadon Sancho in the final minute of extra time against Italy – both players failed to score from the spot.

“In terms of the changes, Marcus came on as a sub in Moscow and took a penalty four or five minutes earlier than we put him on at Wembley,” Southgate said. “I’ve seen lots of teams do that and scored, and it’s the right thing. If you don’t then it’s wrong.

“We’ve got to stick with our processes, give ourselves the best percentages of winning, and we feel we are very well prepared. We’ve won two, we’ve lost the last one. We’ve refined some of those things we didn’t think were quite right. We feel that the process is good.”

Rashford has three World Cup goals and is hopeful of keeping his place on the left. Southgate faces a conundrum over whether to recall Raheem Sterling but could pick the winger for his experience. An alternative to Sterling would be to play Saka instead of Phil Foden, who started and scored in the 3-0 win over Wales on Tuesday. Jordan Henderson hopes to get the nod over Mason Mount in midfield.

Southgate brushed aside claims from the former Senegal and Liverpool striker El Hadji Diouf that England think they have already beaten Aliou Cissé’s side. “Everybody knows we are playing the champions of Africa,” Southgate said. “From winning that and the consistency of their record under Aliou Cissé, they have got a winning mentality. They have got tremendous pride and are a big nation.

“We have made the players aware of that. There are a load of connections with the English league. This is not a team that is a surprise. They have got one or two playing in the Championship that are Premier League players. We have huge respect.”

Southgate’s contract runs until the end of 2024 but he could leave if Senegal win. He has been under pressure in recent months and was criticised after England’s goalless draw with the USA. However, England finished the group stage with a better record than anyone.

“We’re not going to be judged on what we did in the group,” Southgate said. “We’ve got to the point we wanted to. We’ve got to base camp in good condition, having scored a lot of goals which is good for the confidence of the team and with two better defensive performances as well.”

There is doubt over whether Cissé will make it to the Al Bayt stadium after the Senegal coach missed his pre-match press conference because of illness. “He has been sick for a couple of days,” his assistant, Regis Bogaert, said. “He let us take charge of training yesterday. Hopefully tomorrow he will be able to come and be on the bench. We have to be careful with his situation.”