Gareth Southgate wants England to be more ‘streetwise’ — starting against Scotland tonight.
Much has been made of the passion surrounding the game with England top of Group F with seven points, with Three Lions stand-in boss Southgate discussing the history of the fixture with his players.
The Scots have four points from three 2018 World Cup qualifying matches ahead of the game at Wembley and are desperate for a win to get their campaign back on track.
The accusation of being too nice has dogged Southgate, but the interim manager wants to help make the players more wily.
“The classic of that would be the game last year where Harry (Kane) nearly got decapitated against Portugal and tried to keep going,” he said, referring to the summer friendly at Wembley.
“A lot of feedback to me would be, ‘It’s a joke you’re telling him to go down and get the other player sent off, it’s not British’.
“I’d be one of the first to, at the right moment, do the right thing. But we are on the pitch. We want to win. So, there is obviously an edge and I don’t encourage players to cheat.
“But if somebody fouls us and it is a foul and it should be a yellow card, sometimes you have to make sure that decision is taken.”
Wayne Rooney conceded England paid for not being “streetwise” at the World Cup in Brazil and, two years on, Southgate think that issue still remains.
“I think streetwise generally,” he said. “We are going into tournaments, we are going into qualifiers where it is a hard and fine line.
“I know that won’t be a popular opinion but I’m in a professional sport so you’ve got to be respectful of the laws.
“I don’t encourage cheating at all or diving. But there are moments in games when you’ve got to smell what the right thing is.
“I guess I’ve been involved in matches like in St Etienne in ’98 where some of those things have swung the game.
“Nobody turns around and says, ‘Oh well, we did the right thing and what a shame’.”
Southgate believes England captain Wayne Rooney is turning the corner and is primed to prove that “class is permanent” against Scotland.
The 31-year-old has had to deal with unparalleled levels of scrutiny this season, spending much of the last seven weeks on Manchester United’s bench.
What Rooney admitted was a “difficult period” transferred to international level, with Southgate taking the bold decision to drop the country’s all-time top scorer in Slovenia, just days after being booed by pockets of the Wembley crowd.
Rooney has shown signs of life in United’s recent matches and Southgate has confirmed the forward will start tonight. “I think he will play well,” he said. “He doesn’t have anything to prove to me. The whole basis of our conversation around that game wasn’t about my belief in him as a player. I made a decision that I thought was right for that game. But I think he is a big-game player with big-match experience and I think a night like tomorrow is perfect for him.”
Rooney ended an 81-day goal drought at Fenerbahce, before putting in a thoroughly impressive display as Swansea were beaten 3-1 on Sunday. It was Rooney’s first league start since performing so badly at Watford on September 18 and Southgate has seen a visible change in his skipper.
“To my mind, even in his training, he looks freer in his mind and I think that is a key to people being able to perform, really.”
Put to Southgate that something appeared to have changed in Rooney at Swansea, he said: “I don’t know, but I think class is permanent, isn’t it?”
Rooney and Jordan Henderson were the only players Southgate was willing to confirm would start the “very, very special” match. It will be the 113th meeting of the sides and a match that offers England’s temporary manager the chance to underline his merits for the permanent position.
Southgate’s counterpart Gordon Strachan has plenty of selection dilemmas, including who drops out to accommodate the returning Scott Brown; who fills the left-back slot vacated by injuries to Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney; whether Grant Hanley continues despite a lack of game time for Newcastle; and who plays up front.
Strachan is looking for the emotion of playing England to make his Scotland players reach new heights.
Strachan said: “Our players are intelligent enough to understand the fixture.
“I don’t have to show them anything. They know the fixture, it’s known throughout the world.
“The importance of the game is to not be caught up in the emotion of the game, but use the emotion and passion to run further than you’ve ever run before, to jump higher than you’ve jumped before, to concentrate more.
“If you get too emotional, you can lose focus. We’re looking for that emotion and passion to play better than we’ve ever played before.”
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