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Full Time

Home Sport Football

Rice committed to Republic cause after making debut in Turkey

The West Ham defender still has the option of representing the county of his birth.

Declan Rice has insisted his heart remains with the Republic of Ireland after he made an impressive senior debut in Turkey.

The 19-year-old West Ham defender still has the option of representing the country of his birth, England, as he is yet to play a competitive game for Ireland.

But having indicated that is not in his thoughts at the weekend, he reiterated his stance in the bowels of the New Antalya Stadium after the final whistle in Friday night’s 1-0 friendly defeat by the Turks.

Asked if he might have a change of heart, he replied: “Nothing. I’ve come away, played in the game and loved every minute of it.

“I’ve loved being around the team and at the moment I’m fully focused on playing with Ireland.”

Rice turned in assured display both in defence, where he started on the left side of a back three, and then in midfield after a second-half reshuffle.

He did not know he was playing until an hour before kick-off, but took the game in his stride to win the praise of manager Martin O’Neill.

The teenager said: “It was actually an hour before the game. He didn’t name the team until we got in there.

“Personally, I usually like hearing the team, but this was something different and when I heard it, I was buzzing and fully concentrated.

“I knew I needed to give a good performance. You only get one chance and you have to take it.

“I thought I did well for only being 19 years old on the international scene, I was proud of myself and thought I performed well.”

It proved an emotional night for Rice, who qualifies for Ireland through his paternal grandparents, both of whom died two years ago, and they came to mind as he sang the national anthem before kick-off.

He said: “It brought a little bit of a tear to my eye singing it and (remembering) my nana and grandad. It was a special moment.”

Rice will now head back to his club to play his part in the fight for Premier League survival, which continues next Saturday when fellow strugglers Southampton head for the London Stadium.

He said: “It’s tough and nobody likes being in the situation we’re in. We’re out of the bottom three at the moment and we have a massive game coming against Southampton.

“They’re on 28 and we’re on 30 (points). We have to go and win the match.”

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