Harry Maguire says England boss Gareth Southgate was “brave” to start a much-changed side in the Three Lions’ final group stage match against Belgium on Thursday.
England, having already qualified for the knockouts, were beaten 1-0 by the eventual group winners — a result that placed them in what many would consider the easier half of the bracket.
Not so easy, however, is their round-of-16 matchup with Colombia on Tuesday in Moscow. But the Leicester City defender, who was out of the starting XI against the Belgians, has backed Southgate’s choice to make eight changes to the team that thrashed Panama the previous game.
“He’s a brave manager and he makes big decisions in big times,” Maguire said of Southgate, who’s been criticised for his lineup.
“You can say he is brave but so is [Belgium manager] Roberto Martinez: he also made a number of changes I think they were both probably looking at the bigger picture and know that the next game is the biggest one of them all.
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“Gareth is a man of great knowledge. He fills you with confidence no matter what decision is made. We all trust him as a group and hopefully it’s the right decision in the long run. It’s only a good decision if we go and put in a performance in the next game and qualify for the quarterfinals.”
Maguire came on at half-time for John Stones. The Manchester City defender was later seen with treatment on his calf which sparked injury fears. However, Maguire said the plan was always that he’d share the load with Stones in the match.
“I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. I think it was planned that we would each play part of the game because we both played the full 90 minutes in the last two games.
“Gareth wanted to rotate and make sure everyone got the minutes they needed.”
The back three of Maguire, Stones and Kyle Walker will face former Premier League flop Radamel Falcao in their loser-go-home match.
The Colombia striker has recaptured his prolific goal-scoring form since unsuccessful stints at Manchester United and Chelsea, and reserve defender Gary Cahill knows England must be alert to the danger the Monaco man presents.
“Falcao had a difficult time in England clearly, but outside of England he’s a very high-profile player,” said Cahill of his former Chelsea teammate.
“He’s scored many, many goals. He did have a difficult time in England, showed his character when he went to find his form again and now he’s a huge player for them.
“I’m sure a huge amount was probably confidence. He had that spell at Manchester United, then he had that spell at us, he was short of sharpness at both of them.
“I suppose in his eyes, the rest is history, he’s refound his form now.
“He’s tricky in the box, he likes to come off the shoulder a little bit, and he’s a good finisher.
“When he gets half a chance, we saw that in training he’s a decent finisher. Everyone knows him, everyone’s aware of him, his ability.”
Winger Juan Cuadrado also spent time at Stamford Bridge in his career.
Blues’ product Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who was the duo’s teammate for a time, hailed the talent they bring to the table, saying: “When I was at Chelsea training with them obviously Cuadrado didn’t get much game time but he still looked sharp.
“He is so sharp and he can just do things off the cuff, he gets past defenders. As for Falcao, we all know what a player he is. Falcao is always a goal threat and he has been for his entire career.
“It will be a difficult game, just like any other at the World Cup. So we will need to analyse Colombia and work out how we want to play against them.”
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