Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Kane Leads the Line in Malta as Full-Strength England Aim to Set Tempo; Southgate Stresses the Importance of Tonight's Qualifier against Minnows in His Preparation for the World Cup Summer

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Kane Leads the Line in Malta as Full-Strength England Aim to Set Tempo; Southgate Stresses the Importance of Tonight's Qualifier against Minnows in His Preparation for the World Cup Summer

Article excerpt

Byline: James Olley Chief Football Correspondent in Ta' Qali, Malta

IT was difficult to assess whether the late summer sun or the locals here in Ta' Qali gave England a warmer welcome, as they touched down ahead of tonight's World Cup qualifier against Malta.

The quaint and inviting 17,797-seat National Stadium will also feel like a different world from the maelstrom of speculation, brinkmanship and panic of a transfer window closure that overshadowed England's preparations. This first international game of the season comes so early it feels like an abrupt hiatus far removed from the serious stuff, a notion reinforced by England's status as overwhelming favourites to beat a team ranked 190 by FIFA and with a smaller land mass than the Isle of Wight.

Some managers may use the opportunity for a degree of experimentation or rotation, especially with the more challenging task of Slovakia's visit to Wembley on Monday, but Gareth Southgate was unequivocal.

"It will be a full-strength team," said the England boss. "We are at a stage where we're still developing how we play together. The more opportunities we get to play and get our basic principles sound -- although inevitably you have to make changes each month with injuries and unavailability -- but the message of selection is also important for these games."

That means Harry Kane will lead the attack, and there is no room from the start for possible debutants Harry Maguire and Nathaniel Chalobah, while goalkeeper Joe Hart earns another vote of confidence as he attempts to resurrect his club career on loan at West Ham.

Hart will not expect to be tested overly against a team who have won just five competitive matches in their history. Of more relevance will be England's use of the ball -- the tempo and invention in their passing will be the key to avoiding any hiccups, especially in heat likely to be in the mid-20Cs, despite an 8.45pm kick-off local time.

England's Achilles heel in tournaments has long been their deficiency in possession. Yet another painful reminder of those shortcomings came in June, when England were wholly flattered by losing only 3-2 to a muchchanged France side in Paris.

The result was irrelevant, but the performance provided Southgate with a brutal reality check.

"The summer was a good opportunity to reflect on the games we'd had, our strengths and weaknesses as a squad and a team," he said. "We have to win the short-term games, but also build for the summer as well.

"It's a twin track for us, both in terms of the principles of how we play, but also building resilience as a group of men. We have 60-odd training days before we go to a World Cup, so we have to make the most of every day."

Southgate is well indoctrinated into the philosophy at St George's Park, where the ultimate goal remains to develop an 'England DNA'. …

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