Three Lions

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Kane hat trick versus Bulgaria gives him 25 England goals

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Harry Kane converted two penalties on his way to a hat trick, also assisting a Raheem Sterling goal as England smashed Bulgaria 4-0 in EURO qualifying on Saturday.

The Three Lions had almost 70 percent of the ball and a 16-4 advantage in shot attempts.

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England moves back atop Kosovo by a single point, and has played one fewer match than the rest of the group (two fewer than Bulgaria).

Kane has 25 goals in 40 caps, good for 14th all-time. Kane is one goal behind Bobby Robson and 28 behind all-time leader Wayne Rooney, who did it in 120 caps.

England’s evolution: How the Three Lions squad has changed from Brazil to Russia

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Even in the smoldering wreck that was England’s 2014 World Cup performance in Brazil, there was a bright light at the end of the tunnel.

Several of the youngsters included in the World Cup squad were beginning to come into their own, and in the Premier League and select matches for the England National Team, showed flashes of their world class talent. This includes Raheem Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Jordan Henderson, all who have developed into important Premier League players for their clubs.

But there were a number of youngsters, and players in their prime, that many would have presumed would be even better four years from then, and would be players England fans could count on at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Ross Barkley. Luke Shaw. Daniel Sturridge. Jack Wilshere. Phil Jones. Chris Smalling. Adam Lallana.

The septet of players, all of whom when fit can be world beaters, have failed to prove they can stay healthy consistantly for their club teams and England, save for Wilshere. But even Wilshere couldn’t stay fit for England’s last two friendly matches.

Then you have the declines of Gary Cahill, Joe Hart and Leighton Baines. Add in the international retirements of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson and this summer’s England World Cup squad will have a much different look. And perhaps that’s a good thing.

After hiring a pragmatist in Roy Hodgson who ultimately saw England fall to Iceland in Euro 2016, Gareth Southgate has taken advantage of his work in the England youth ranks to give plenty of youngsters a chance, ones that weren’t ready yet for the big stage in 2014.

The Tottenham trio of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier are all expected to start in England’s opening match against Tunisia on June 18. Add in Manchester United pair Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, as well as Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford (and maybe even Nick Pope) and you have an evolution of young players moving up the national team ladder, as well as performing each week for their clubs. And each of those players are 25-years and under.

From England’s lineup against Italy in the Three Lions’ opener at the 2014 World Cup, it appears that just Henderson and Sterling are locked in for starting places in 2018, with Danny Welbeck potentially making the list. But after a succession of veteran-laden tournaments, perhaps a tournament in Russia (not too far from England compared to Brazil) is the best place to throw out a group of youngsters on the field in the England shirt, and see what they can do.

Expectations for England remain grounded, and for good reason considering its last two tournament performances. But with so many fresh young faces, there’s still a chance that, like their counterparts at the Under-20 and Under-17 levels, they can put a run together.

England will certainly miss out on what could have been with Barkley and Sturridge in the attack, Wilshere in midfield, Smalling and Jones along the backline and Shaw bombing down the left. But with the introduction of more young players playing at a high level, this team has the talent to compete at the World Cup, and potentially get out of their group.

Inexperienced Southgate given first shot at vacant England job

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) After the acrimonious departure of Sam Allardyce, England’s national soccer team is temporarily in the hands of a man who said just three weeks ago that he wasn’t ready for such a high pressure job.

Yet interim coach Gareth Southgate may end up keeping it given the paucity of top-class English managers around.

The English Football Association’s preference is that an Englishman coaches the national team, but there’s hardly a queue of top-quality candidates.

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Alan Pardew, Eddie Howe and Steve Bruce are high on the list of bookmakers’ favorites to be the next England coach, yet none of them have managed a so-called big club in the Premier League or coached a team in the Champions League. Pardew and Howe are in charge of unfashionable Premier League clubs (Crystal Palace and Bournemouth, respectively) and Bruce recently quit as manager of Hull.

Glenn Hoddle, England coach from 1996-99, is also on the bookies’ list and a popular call with ex-professionals even though he hasn’t coached in a decade.

So Southgate, who has been given the reins for England’s next four matches – against Malta, Slovenia, Scotland and Spain – can stake a claim for the role on a full-time basis should he impress as a caretaker coach.

Except this was the same man who said as recently as Sept. 5 that he needed more experience to be England manager, having coached only one club (Middlesbrough, from 2006-09) and been in charge of the England under-21 side since 2013. Southgate pulled out of the race to succeed Roy Hodgson after the European Championship for this very reason, with the job going to Allardyce.

“I’m pretty clear on what I’m comfortable with,” Southgate said then, “but also I know to take that role wasn’t something I think I’ve got the experience for.

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“I think it’s one of the ultimate jobs and you want every skill set possible when you go into it. I think with England, there are one or two other things that I would want to have had experience of before I took that role, to be going into it from a real position of strength. Maybe that happens in the future, maybe it doesn’t?”

Less than a month later, he’s been thrust into what some term “The Impossible Job.”

Clean-cut, well-spoken and with no baggage, the 46-year-old Southgate fits the bill for the FA in terms of image. He would be the last person likely to get caught up in the kind of newspaper sting that led to Allardyce losing his job on Tuesday. He also knows the FA and what the national body wants and expects, having been an employee for three years.

“Gareth Southgate will do a good job,” FA chairman Greg Clarke said. “He knows the people, he knows the team, he knows the setup at St. George’s Park. He’ll take over pretty seamlessly.”

Best known for missing a crucial penalty in England’s shootout loss to Germany in the Euro 1996 semifinals, Southgate was fired after three years at Middlesbrough following its relegation from the Premier League. He has repaired his coaching reputation with England’s under-21s and led the team to a first title in 22 years at the Toulon tournament this year.

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Bruce is the second-favorite with bookmakers, behind Southgate, and has to be a big contender considering he was interviewed by the FA for the job eventually given to Allardyce. The 38-year-old Howe, who guided unfancied Bournemouth into the Premier League and kept it there, is widely regarded as a future England coach but now may be too soon for him.

The problem for English coaches is they are rarely given the chance to prove themselves at the leading Premier League clubs, who prefer foreign managers. The FA has tried to address the lack of top English coaches by building the sprawling National Football Centre in central England in 2012 and using that as a base from where talented young coaches can be brought through. That will take time, though.

For now, the FA has given itself some breathing space and will look to have a new man in place by England’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania in March.

“It wasn’t the plan we had,” Clarke said, “but we’ve now got to make the new plan work.”

Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney muses on captaincies, laments Liverpool’s strong season

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With a new contract sending loads of money to the bank, Wayne Rooney is able to focus on his future as a Manchester United and England player.

And the 28-year-old attacker with 152 goals for club and another 38 for country would be more than happy to take on the visible leadership role that comes with wearing the captain’s armband.

Rooney’s presumed to be the next Red Devils captain following the committal of Nemanja Vidic to Inter Milan beginning this summer, while Steven Gerrard’s international future is in question after the World Cup, potentially opening up the captaincy for the Three Lions.

“I would take it with both hands. However, it is down to the manager, because it’s his decision on whoever he feels is the right person to lead the team. I’m sure he’ll make that decision when the time comes.”

The Manchester United star also had some interesting comments in “Inside United” about watching Liverpool’s title charge from below that are sure to make supporters grin, let alone those like Rooney raised in Everton blue.

“To see City doing well, and particularly Liverpool, is really difficult.

“It’s not nice when we know we are capable of being up there challenging and we haven’t been doing that this season.

“However, it means we have to step up and get back up there because the feeling we’ve had this season is not a nice feeling at all to have.”

It’s hard to imagine another player at United seizing the captaincy, but how about England? Do you see Rooney as the next skipper post-Gerrard, or do you favor someone like Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka or another player?

Joe Hart is feeling that Ben Foster-induced pressure

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With the renaissance of Ben Foster’s goal-keeping prowess and his recall to the Three Lions after a three-year break from international football, the pressure is on Joe Hart to step up and perform. And it’s clear the 25 year old is feeling the squeeze.

When asked if Foster will provide the necessary competition, Hart was quick to defend himself: “I’d imagine so. Whether it’s just me here or 10 goalkeepers or whatever, I’ll always train the same, try the same and give what I’ve got. I don’t need reinvigorating. I train hard, I work hard, I want to play well. I try and play well no matter who is doing what.”

Since cracking the Starting XI after the goal-keeping debacle that was World Cup 2010, Hart has been England’s clear-cut No. 1. Success with country boosted his confidence, a key component to Hart’s growth and the foundation for stringing together two successive seasons of dominance at City. But with the glories of lifting the FA Cup in 2011 and the Premier League trophy in 2012 in the rear view mirror, Hart has struggled over the last six to nine months.

The 2012-13 Premier League season has been dotted with glaring mistakes, notably the 1-0 loss to Sunderland on Boxing Day and the 3-1 loss to Southampton in February. It’s been the same situation on the international level as a shaky match against Poland last fall led to a poor performance against Sweden when Zlatan Ibrahimovic went on his famous four goal rampage. Once a happy-go-lucky kid with the build of a bouncer, Hart’s smile lines have turned to jowls and fiery displays of frustration have become all too common.

Critics say Hart isn’t pushed hard enough at City and that Costel Pantilimon – who hasn’t been called into Roberto Mancini’s fold for two years –  isn’t providing the competition Hart requires to remain consistent. It’s a narrative that exists on nearly every team but credit Hodgson for going out and actually doing something about it. Seemingly unsatisfied with the likes of Jack Butland, John Ruddy and even the highly underrated Fraser Forster, Hodgson went out of his way to persuade Foster to end his international retirement.

While Hart admits he’s “not been brilliant” of late he seems to be taking the competition in stride, staying grounded and focused. “I’m only thinking about staying in the side for England and City, trying to be the best I can,” Hart says. “I’m in that privileged spot at the moment. I didn’t dream of this spot because I didn’t think it would happen. That No1 spot is one I want to keep.”

Fortunately for Hart, all should go well as San Marino has been outscored 16-0 in their last four matches. But if the 207th team in the world somehow manages to squeak one by the City netminder, things could get mighty interesting in the England camp.