Southgate jumps to defence of Rice after England inclusion

Declan Rice with girlfriend Lauren Fryer

SMITTEN Declan Rice with girlfriend Lauren Fryer

"There aren't many players of Declan's age playing as well as he is in the Premier League", Southgate told a news conference after announcing his squad.

On Rice call-up: "We've tracked him for quite a while".

Butland is unlikely to be considered anything more than a back-up option at national team level for now, especially when you consider that he is playing in the Championship.

"I think it's easy to be vocal when you haven't walked in those shoes", the England boss said.

"When you're picking a squad, there's got to be an element of what the players are doing with their clubs and what they have done with us".

Everton keeper Jordan Pickford, who has suffered a dip in form this season and played poorly in his side's defeat at Newcastle United on Saturday, retains Southgate's confidence.

Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton is back in the squad having recovered from a shoulder injury and Southgate said he would be talking to Pickford together with the England goalkeeper coach Martyn Margetson before deciding on his no. 1.

"As I said last month, I had an extremely difficult decision to make regarding my worldwide future, but I have made that decision and now I just want to focus on the future, continuing to work hard and play as well as I possibly can".

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Southgate is adamant he has made no promises to Rice in return for the 18-year-old pledging his worldwide future to England.

"That said, there were never any guarantees made to him".

"What we've seen throughout has been an impressive character, a young man that shows tremendous leadership and responsibility".

None of those matches were competitive fixtures, however, and Gareth Southgate has opted to pick the English-born 20-year-old in his squad for the game against the Czechs at Wembley on March 22 and the trip to Montenegro three days later. "He'll fit very well into how we work". We look forward to welcoming him next week.

"What I like in our squad, is there are a lot of players who want to be among the best in the world".

Reid, however, believes Ireland need to continue scouring the country for players who might be eligible to play for them.

The Three Lions face Czech Republic and Montenegro later this month as they look to build on promising performances at the World Cup and in the Nations League.

"Jordan has played extremely well for us", Southgate added.

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