Butland to face Italy, relishes battle for No. 1 spot

Stoke's Jack Butland feels that England manager Gareth Southgate's goalkeeper trial in friendly matches is creating a situation in which the four goalkeepers in the squad are driving one another on.
Stoke's Jack Butland feels that England manager Gareth Southgate's goalkeeper trial in friendly matches is creating a situation in which the four goalkeepers in the squad are driving one another on.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland will start in goal for England in their friendly match against Italy today as manager Gareth Southgate continues the audition process for this year's World Cup.

Southgate announced his latest choice during his news conference yesterday ahead of the Wembley clash with the Azzurri.

Joe Hart remains England's most experienced goalkeeping option, but Everton's Jordan Pickford was selected in the 1-0 win against the Netherlands in Amsterdam last Friday and now Butland will get his chance to stake his claim.

Burnley's uncapped Nick Pope is also in the squad.

"No, (Pickford) didn't (do anything wrong against the Netherlands on Friday)," Southgate said.

"At the beginning of the week, we decided that's what we were going to do, give them both a game for the experience.

"We have stuck with the plan right the way through and there is no reason to come away from that.

"Lots of positions of the field we have really good options. It's important we have competition for places all over the pitch."

Butland made his England debut against Italy in 2012 but has earned only five caps since. He was ruled out of Euro 2016 after fracturing his ankle in March that year.

The 25-year-old has made 28 appearances in the Premier League this season for relegation-threatened Stoke, keeping five clean sheets and conceding 51 goals.

Pickford has let in 50 for Everton this season, keeping seven clean sheets in 31 league games, yet both he and Butland appear to be edging ahead of Hart - out of favour at West Ham - in the race to win the right to wear the No. 1 jersey.

Southgate's reluctance to nominate his preferred candidate with just three more friendlies before heading to Russia is controversial, but Butland said the internal battle drives up standards.

"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 and whoever it will be is going to be coming off a battle, which is what we want," he added.

However, Southgate did not rule Hart out of starting against Tunisia in England's World Cup Finals opener on June 18.

He also reassured Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere, who had to pull out of both friendlies with a knee injury, that there was still time to make an impression before the squad are finalised.

Liverpool defender Joe Gomez had to withdraw from the England camp on Sunday after suffering an ankle injury against the Dutch.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2018, with the headline 'Butland to face Italy, relishes battle for No. 1 spot'. Print Edition | Subscribe