‘We want clarity’: Gareth Southgate fears England being targeted by referees

  • England match used as an ‘example’ in Fifa briefing to officials
  • ‘Goals are going in and we don’t know whether they stand or not’

Gareth Southgate is concerned England could be a target for referees at the World Cup after Harry Maguire was denied what looked a clear penalty in the 6-2 win against Iran on Monday.

The England manager was uneasy at how a goalscoring clip from one of his team’s qualifying ties had been used in the referees’ briefing for the tournament as an example of foul play.

It came from the 5-0 Wembley win against Albania in November last year and showed Kalvin Phillips blocking an opponent at a free-kick to help create the space for Maguire to head home. The clip was shown to referees, all the competing nations and media.

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Southgate saw Maguire wrestled to the ground by the Iran defender Rouzbeh Cheshmi on a third-minute Kieran Trippier corner only for neither the referee nor the VAR to intervene. The manager is worried that the clip from the Albania tie could have influenced the decision and he wants to discuss the matter with Fifa. At the end of the Iran game, John Stones conceded a soft penalty for a shirt tug on Mehdi Taremi when defending a set piece.

“What worries me is we were used in an example in the referees’ video,” Southgate said. “What we were shown [in the briefing] – the incident in the first half [against Iran] … we were told that would be a definite penalty. In the second half, maybe there’s a shirt pull, we’ve got to be better on that, but I’m a bit worried we were the example shown. And then to get a decision as happened in the first half – we need some clarification really as to how it’s going to be.”

Gareth Southgate looks on during the England training session at Al Wakrah Stadium on Tuesday
Gareth Southgate oversees England training on Tuesday. Photograph: Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Southgate remembered how the Football Association had gone to Fifa to discuss penalty decisions after England’s opening match at the last World Cup – the 2-1 win against Tunisia. The goal they conceded was from a penalty and Southgate was aggrieved England did not get one after Harry Kane was pulled to the turf.

“It happened in Russia and we’ve got to have that dialogue with Fifa [again],” Southgate said. “We want clarity. Otherwise we don’t know where we stand. Goals are going in and we don’t know whether they stand or not. The bit that worries me is we were the example shown.”

Harry Kane and Harry Maguire are expected to be fit for England’s game against the USA on Friday, but James Maddison’s knee problem kept him out of training again on Tuesday.

There was minor concern over Kane after the striker took a heavy blow to his right ankle early in England's 6-2 World Cup thrashing of Iran on Monday, while Maguire was substituted after complaining of feeling unwell during the second half. However both players took part in a recovery session and should start when Gareth Southgate’s side face the US.

With England’s 11 starters against Iran going through a lighter session in the gym, most of the rest of the squad worked outside at the team’s training complex. However Maddison, who was not available against Iran, was absent. The Leicester midfielder has been nursing a knee problem and is a doubt to be involved on Friday.

England had 13 outfield players training outside. Callum Wilson, who came off the bench against Iran, took part in the indoor session but is fully fit.

Southgate also discussed the balance he wants to find between allowing his players to meet with their families in Qatar and controlling the risk of Covid transmission. Some of the players went into the stands after the Iran game to hug their loved ones.

Southgate was asked whether there had been full access to families for the England Women team during their victorious European Championship campaign in the summer. “That wasn’t quite how it was with the girls,” he replied. “Towards the end, they had to batten that down a bit more because they had a few positive cases.

“We’re going to have to monitor it throughout but also there’s this balance of the spirit and happiness of the group and the medical line of zero risk. Sometimes if you’re going to take zero risks it can kill it for everybody. We’re going to see how the next few days go and we’ve talked about maybe looking at something after the second game [against USA on Friday]. We’ve got to monitor the [Covid] rates out here as much as anything else.”


David Hytner in Doha

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