England's old flaws put on ice

Joe Hart will earn his 70th cap as he captains England against Lithuania, guiding them towards qualifying for Russia 2018. Lithuania are three places and five points behind England.
Joe Hart will earn his 70th cap as he captains England against Lithuania, guiding them towards qualifying for Russia 2018. Lithuania are three places and five points behind England.PHOTO: REUTERS

Iceland Euro debacle influenced Southgate approach in forming Lithuania strategy

LONDON • England midfielder Eric Dier admitted that the Three Lions' Euro 2016 humiliation by Iceland means they will never again underestimate teams like today's opponents, Lithuania.

Dier was part of Roy Hodgson's team who were stunned 2-1 by Iceland last year as England crashed to their most embarrassing defeat.

Gareth Southgate's men will start as strong favourites at Wembley, as they look to cement their place at the Group F summit, but Dier says thoughts of Iceland will not be far away.

"Whenever you're in an England squad, you're going to think about it. It's a painful reminder and it's a good lesson for the future," said the Tottenham Hotspur man, 23.

"We can look back on that game and what we didn't do and in games like the one (against Lithuania) try to do what we didn't.

"We have to be confident going into it, try to play quick, attacking football and hopefully they won't be able to handle that."

MOTIVATED BY THE EURO SETBACK

Whenever you're in an England squad, you're going to think about it.

ERIC DIER, England midfielder, on the bitter memories of the shock defeat by Iceland.

Southgate is expected to field a very attack-minded side against Lithuania with John Stones, 22, stepping out from defence, and Kyle Walker, 26, and Ryan Bertrand, 27, joining Raheem Sterling, 22, and Jesse Lingard, 24, in flying down the flanks. Dele Alli, 20, and Adam Lallana, 28, will be looking to build on their well-received performances in the 1-0 defeat by Germany in the friendly on Wednesday.

Jamie Vardy, 30, assuming he shakes off a minor knock, is set to start. After their composed shifts in Dortmund, Michael Keane, 24, and Dier deserve to retain their places at centre-back and holding midfield respectively.

England are embarking on a new era, post-Wayne Rooney, with Southgate looking for a more youthful, quick-moving team.

Goalkeeper Joe Hart indicated that nobody was irreplaceable, responding to a question about Rooney's absence through injury by saying: "He's a huge presence, but football has got this way of happening. If I wasn't here, I don't think it would make much of a difference. We just keep going."

He also hailed the experimental 3-4-3 formation that Southgate adopted against Germany, saying that it was good to see them try "something new".

The same formation has been instrumental in the success of Premier League leaders Chelsea this season but is a departure from the 4-3-3 or 4-3-2-1 favoured by Hodgson at Euro 2016 or the 4-2-3-1 adopted by his successor Sam Allardyce, who lasted just 67 days in the England job.

Lithuania made a steady start to qualifying, drawing with Slovenia and Scotland before beating Malta 2-0, but were then given a rude awakening by a 4-0 defeat in Slovakia. Edgaras Jankauskas' side, who are without an away win in six competitive games, sit fourth in the group, five points below England and three points off the play-off place.

The Lithuania manager says his team will draw encouragement from England's defeat by Iceland.

"World-class players should not be affected by pressure," he said.

"When you are privileged to play every week in great stadiums and the best league in the world, then you should get used to the pressure and you have to cope with the pressure.

"It is your job week in, week out. In the Euros we saw that on the day England were not ready. I have total faith in my players."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 26, 2017, with the headline 'England's old flaws put on ice'. Print Edition | Subscribe