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Sterling apologises after Three Lions skipper gaffe

 

Mix up: Raheem Sterling insists he had no idea about a press release that named him as England captain against the Netherlands
Mix up: Raheem Sterling insists he had no idea about a press release that named him as England captain against the Netherlands
Gareth Southgate

By Mark Mann-Bryans

Raheem Sterling woke up "fuming" after a PR company connected to him claimed he would captain England in their Nations League semi-final against the Netherlands tonight.

A press release circulated late on Tuesday evening suggested the Manchester City forward would lead out the Three Lions to mark the occasion of his 50th cap.

There was no official confirmation from the Football Association at the time, while manager Gareth Southgate remained tight-lipped over who would wear the armband when he addressed the media on the eve of the Holland clash.

The press release read: "The Football Writers' Footballer of the Year is set to wear the captain's armband for England's UEFA Nations League semi-final fixture against the Netherlands in Portugal, on Thursday evening, June 6."

But Sterling insisted he knew nothing of the release and had not spoken to anyone, including Southgate, before Tuesday evening - revealing he apologised to the England boss when he realised what had happened.

"I couldn't tell you that," Sterling replied when asked what had prompted the release.

"I woke up this morning fuming. I hadn't had a conversation with Gareth or anyone in my agency, so it was a strange one to wake up to.

"The first thing I did after I came off the phone to my agent was see Gareth down the hallway, and I apologised to him for what had happened. I don't know where that's come from."

Southgate would not be drawn on who would captain his side in Guimaraes, given there are fitness concerns over regular skipper Harry Kane.

The Tottenham forward appeared jaded as he made his first start for seven weeks in Saturday's 2-0 Champions League final defeat to Liverpool in Madrid.

Southgate refused to rule Kane out of the contest against the Dutch and would not give away any of his team selection in advance so as not to give Holland boss Ronald Koeman an advantage.

"If I confirm anything about the team other than that Raheem is playing, I'm doing half of Ronald's job for him," he said.

"I don't want to discuss the captaincy. Harry Kane is our captain. If he doesn't play, then I have a decision to make."

While the decision is Southgate's to make, Sterling - who will collect his 50th cap at the age of 24 - said he would be proud to captain his country at some point.

"It's something I'd be proud and happy to do for sure. That's up to the manager."

Having been criticised in some circles as England reached the semi-finals of the World Cup last summer, Sterling admits he hit the reset button after the tournament and hailed his goals against Spain as a watershed moment.

"I've watched a lot of England games and I always had a dream to play for them," he said.

"I never thought I'd be in with a chance to make a 50th cap.

"It is a massive achievement for me and something I'll cherish for the rest of my life.

"Spain was a massive turning point for me, to break my duck. A massive highlight was being part of that World Cup squad, being able to go so far in the tournament, but disappointed not to go the full way. It's a learning curve, something we'll take into the game tomorrow."

Meanwhile, Virgil van Dijk was full of respect for England ahead of their clash.

The Champions League winner is expected to line up against Southgate's side just five days after the final in Madrid.

On England's recent progress, the Liverpool defender said: "They obviously made good steps, they grew as a team but so did we.

"They have fantastic players all over the pitch. They're just a great team, a great team to watch as well, but so are we. We're looking good we have fantastic players."

On facing Harry Kane for the second time in a week, he said: "Harry Kane is a fantastic striker, I think one of the best in England, and I think he's the best striker England have got, but I know also that if you're not 100% fit it's going to be in your head.

"Obviously I expected him to play in the final but he was not 100%."

Ronald Koeman praised his opposition number Southgate for giving young players a chance.

On his experiences of the national team when managing in England, Koeman said: "I think at that time maybe it was a difficult period, but when Gareth Southgate took it over he gave opportunities to young players.

"When you look at that national team it's full of quality and there is a good balance in the team."

He added: "It's all about the quality of players that makes a national team strong."

England

Netherlands

Uefa Nations League Semi-Final: Estádio D. Afonso Henriques, Tonight, 7.45pm

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