Belfast Telegraph

Butland enjoying battle to become England number one

By Simon Peach

Jack Butland is thriving on the "intense" competition between England's goalkeepers and insists there will be no bad blood when Gareth Southgate names his World Cup number one.

The Stoke player is set to start against Italy at Wembley tomorrow night and needs to keep pace with Everton's rising star Jordan Pickford, who made it two clean sheets from two appearances during Friday's 1-0 win in Holland.

In the background is long-serving Joe Hart, while uncapped Burnley man Nick Pope has also been training with the squad for the first time.

Southgate's reluctance to nominate his preferred candidate with just three more friendlies before heading to Russia has invited much debate.

But Butland claims the internal battle only serves to drive up standards across the board.

"It's a good thing isn't it, having competition? I enjoy it," he said.

"Training between all of us is extremely intense. Obviously it's one we're all trying to take for ourselves but ultimately whoever deserves it, whoever the manager feels, will get it and we're all trying to do our bit to make sure it's us.

"The manager will make his decision when he's ready, until that time and even beyond that time we'll all be battling to show who is best.

"I think that's a great way to go into a World Cup, the fact not knowing who it is just yet shows the competition is great."

On the mood of friendly rivalry at play within the goalkeeper's union, Butland added: "It's a great group and we back each other - whoever it's been in the team everyone has always supported them.

"That's how you become a winning team and become successful. It's not by turning your head at people or being a bad egg, that doesn't work for anyone."

Italy were also the opponents when Butland made his England debut back in 2012, a 2-1 win in Berne.

At just 19 he became the most youthful player to ever wear the gloves for the Three Lions, but a series of injuries - notably a year-long ankle problem and a broken finger, both sustained of international duty - have seen him win just five more caps.

"Of course, six years ago, I was the youngest keeper to play for England and all of that, first cap, an incredible moment and I envisaged playing a lot more between then and now," he said.

"But injuries happen and it was a massive setback for me. I've dealt with bigger things than the odd (bad) performance, I've dealt with a hell of a long time out of the game.

"I've had to deal with fears of not playing again, I'm a bigger man for it and I will be better for it in the future."

Joe Gomez has been ruled out of the match with a left ankle injury suffered in his brief outing in Amsterdam.

The Liverpool defender was handed a starting role but fell awkwardly after an aerial challenge and was gone in less than 10 minutes.

England vs Italy

International Friendly

Wembley Stadium, Tomorrow, 8.00pm

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