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Gareth Southgate faces up to ‘difficult’ England decisions

The Three Lions boss has been impressed with how his squad have risen to the challenge ahead of the World Cup.

Gareth Southgate is facing far “more difficult” decisions for England’s World Cup opener thanks to preparations that could scarcely have gone better.

Work for Russia has been as smooth as it has been impressive in recent weeks, with comfortable warm-up victories complementing fine work on the training field and increasing team spirit away from it.

Southgate’s side honed their skills at a sold-out Elland Road on Thursday evening as they followed the win against Nigeria by beating Costa Rica in a manner more stirring than the 2-0 scoreline suggests.

Marcus Rashford and Danny Welbeck secured victory from another injury-free evening, giving the England manager a welcome selection headache ahead of the Group G opener against Tunisia on June 18.

“It’s more difficult,” Southgate said. “No question. There’s some serious decisions to take – but in a good way.

“If I was sitting here thinking ‘blimey, we have got nobody to play there and nobody to play there’ then it would be a very different situation.

“We asked the players to give us competition for places. I can’t start complaining when they do.”

Man-of-the-match Rashford shone brightest in Thursday’s audition, scoring an exceptional opener and playing with confidence at a buoyant Elland Road.

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Danny Welbeck, centre, came off the bench to score on Thursday (Mike Egerton/PA)

The Manchester United forward was among 10 alterations to the starting line-up, with Trent Alexander-Arnold holding his own on his Three Lions debut and Fabian Delph impressing on his first England start since November 2015.

“I have got 11 or 12 that are going to be difficult to leave out because there is genuine competition for places,” Southgate said.

“I think everybody saw that and that’s what we said to the players before the game.

“It wasn’t ‘first-team played Nigeria and second-team played today’. We’ve got really good players across the two line-ups.

“Obviously, Delph as an eight is a different type of player to Dele (Alli) as an eight but very effective tonight and we’ll have different moments in games where we need those different types of players.”

Ruben Loftus-Cheek is another exciting midfield option, sparkling in the first half against Costa Rica as he underlined his undoubted potential.

“Ruben we know is a super talent and it’s still early for him,” Southgate said.

“He’s still learning the game, really, which I know sounds bizarre because he is now an England international, but he has so few league appearances that he is incredibly raw.

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Ruben Loftus-Cheek has impressed in an England shirt (Tim Goode/PA)

“But we believe in him, we know the talent he’s got. You can see his ability to hold people off, his speed of feet, his strength when he is running with the ball.

“He is a super exciting talent and, again, he is different to the other players that we have.”

England’s players were given a final pre-World Cup break after the Costa Rica match, before reconvening on Saturday evening and lining up for an internal match on Monday.

The squad head to Russia on Tuesday, but downtime is currently the order of the day.

“I’m going to get my hair cut for a start,” Southgate said with a smile. “It’s starting to get slightly dishevelled.

“I’m probably going to try and watch my son play cricket at some point and then I am just going to be at home with the family.”

Asked if he will be able to switch off, he said: “Absolutely no chance! No, I will. I’ll take the dogs for a run.

“I think we’ve managed to split the camps up pretty well, and I’ve got to say the support team I have got around me is top, really top in every department.

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Southgate intends to take a little break from World Cup preparations (Mike Egerton/PA)

“But they’ve got to take these breaks as well because the energy levels needed for a tournament are very high.

“We’ve talked about that a lot as a support team. It’s important they get that switch off.

“They can’t all because some are organising the logistics of everybody else, but we have to share the load and support each other in those moments.”

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