England is fully expecting an impassioned pro-Ukraine atmosphere at Tarczynski Arena in Wroclaw, Poland for Saturday’s Euro 2024 qualifying game against Ukraine, manager Gareth Southgate said, while confirming all of his players are available for the match.
“We know there are thousands of Ukrainians here,” he told reporters at a press conference on Friday in Wroclaw. “We are expecting a passionate crowd but we are here to win a football game, so for us it is about keeping our emotions in check and focusing on our job.”
England tops Group C with 12 points from four matches and have scored 15 goals while conceding only one. They beat Ukraine 2-0 earlier in the qualifying campaign at Wembley. Ukraine, with six points, could cement second in the group with a victory.
Ukraine has not played at home since Russia launched an invasion of the country in February 2022, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”, and Southgate was asked how he felt about facing the war-torn country.
“I can’t talk on a broader perspective, but football wise it is just a difficult game for us,” Southgate said. “They have players who have played in England and we know very well. We have to play our best to get the result we want.”
Skipper Harry Kane, England’s all-time leading scorer with 58 goals, was asked about calling Germany home after leaving Tottenham Hotspur for Bayern Munich last month, particularly since Germany will host next year’s Euros.
“The full focus has been on Bayern Munich and trying to win the games there,” the 30-year-old said. “The Euros are something at the back of our mind but we have to qualify first. I don’t like to think too far ahead but hopefully by next summer it will feel a little more like home.”
Asked if he’s picked up much German, Kane laughed and said, “It hasn’t really come along any further to be honest. I am due to start lessons when I get back.”
Former Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson has been the subject of scathing criticism, particularly from LGBTQ+ groups, since his move to Saudi Pro League side Al-Ettifaq and his defence of his move in an interview this week seemed to pour fuel on the fire, with suggestions he could face protesters in Wroclaw.
Southgate said that will play no part in his selection on Saturday.
“I don’t pick the team based on external reaction,” Southgate said. “He’s a very experienced professional. He is very mature at handling any situation really. He has trained really well this week, the whole group has and everyone is available, which is good for us.”
Southgate had kind words for Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka, who was crowned England’s men’s player of the year earlier in the week for the second successive year.
“Even from the start he has shown amazing maturity with us,” Southgate said. “He is a fabulous character to work with, a completely reliable player with and without the ball.
“Probably the biggest improvement has been the number of goals, off his left and right. He deserves every credit he gets and he is very popular with the whole group.”
England is unbeaten in eight of its previous nine meetings against Ukraine, their lone loss coming in 2009 when England keeper Robert Green was dismissed early in the first half.
England plays Scotland in a friendly on Tuesday at Hampden Park.