London: England’s plan to celebrate their 1,000th international by qualifying for Euro 2020 in serene style against Montenegro at Wembley on Thursday has been ripped up by Gareth Southgate’s decision to drop Raheem Sterling.
The Manchester City winger was involved in a physical confrontation with Liverpool defender Joe Gomez at England’s training base on Monday as emotions spilt over from the highly anticipated Premier League clash between the two clubs on Sunday.
Sterling has been the star of a qualifying campaign dominated by off-field issues, scoring eight of his side’s 26 goals in six games.
One of Southgate’s strengths since taking charge three years ago has been to foster a unity in the camp, far removed from the club-aligned cliques that hampered the chances of talented England sides of the past.
Southgate’s first instinct was reportedly to send Sterling home, but the intervention of senior players helped ease the feud and the 24-year-old has remained with the squad to train.
“I always have to find the right solution for the group and that’s a very difficult line,” said Southgate. “We have a very good understanding and that togetherness that is still there. Now we have to turn our focus to the football.”
Elsewhere, six teams — Belgium, Spain, Italy, Poland, Russia and Ukraine — have already booked their places at Euro 2020.
World champions France, European champion Portugal, and heavyweights Germany and the Netherlands are in good shape to finish in the top two in their respective groups, ensuring spots in the Europe-wide finals taking place in June and July.
There are big opportunities for Europe’s so-called lesser footballing nations, too. Finland need only to beat Liechtenstein to qualify for their first major tournament.