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Southgate praises under-fire Maguire ahead of World Cup opener

Gareth Southgate has praised Harry Maguire ahead of England’s World Cup opener against Iran.

Maguire is expected to start England’s opening fixture on Monday despite a difficult period at club level, with the centre-back having lost his place as a regular at Manchester United following an extended spell of disappointing performances.

His very inclusion for the squad in Qatar has been contentious, but Southgate has retained his trust in a player who has impressed for the Three Lions at past tournaments. Maguire was named in the Team of the Tournament as England reached the final of Euro 2020 and Southgate believes his experience will be important at the World Cup.

“Loyalty comes from performances over time and knowing that to play for England is a different experience to any other. Players have to be able to handle that,” Southgate said when asked about Maguire. “The ones that have been here longer, we know they can do that. You also have to balance that with what the alternatives are.”

Southgate believes Maguire possesses a different profile to England’s other centre-back options, praising the defender’s physical challenge and ability in the air.

The England manager also insisted that Maguire’s familiarity with England’s other defensive options will be important, given the limited preparation time for coaches and players ahead of a winter World Cup.

“He’s technically a fantastic footballer with the ball, he’s a very strong leader in the team, his physical stature, the aerial challenge is one: we haven’t got anybody else with that physical presence.

“And of course there is the relationships with other players in the defence, which are also part of your thinking when you’re picking a team, because that understanding you don’t have long to work on and the more those relationships are there over a period of time is helpful.”

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