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Southgate praises character of England’s Black players

September 4, 2021 GMT
England's manager Gareth Southgate talks to Raheem Sterling during the World Cup 2022 group I qualifying soccer match between Hungary and England at the Ferenc Puskas stadium in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh)
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England's manager Gareth Southgate talks to Raheem Sterling during the World Cup 2022 group I qualifying soccer match between Hungary and England at the Ferenc Puskas stadium in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh)
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England's manager Gareth Southgate talks to Raheem Sterling during the World Cup 2022 group I qualifying soccer match between Hungary and England at the Ferenc Puskas stadium in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Laszlo Balogh)

LONDON (AP) — England coach Gareth Southgate praised the character of Raheem Sterling, Jude Bellingham and all of his squad’s Black players following the latest racist abuse to affect the national team.

FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings after Sterling and Bellingham were targeted with monkey chants by Hungary fans during England’s 4-0 victory in a World Cup qualifier in Budapest on Thursday.

There have been similar incidents involving England’s Black players during international matches in recent years, notably in July when Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were racially abused over social media after missing penalties in the shootout loss to Italy in the European Championship final.

“I don’t know how many camps we have had in the last four years but I seem to be talking about this subject every time we’ve been together,” Southgate said in a video call on Saturday.

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“Our players are incredibly mature in the way they deal with it. They feel supported by their teammates, which is very important to them. Their teammates realize how challenging it must be for our Black players and how disappointing it is in the modern world that we continue to have to answer these questions because of the incidents that happen. But we can only keep taking the stance we have done and hope we continue to send the right messages, not only to people in football but across society.”

England defender Conor Coady said the incidents in Hungary hadn’t affected the morale of the squad.

“Not at all,” Coady said. “The way the boys deal with the situation, the team deals with the situation, we are such a close-knit group and it’s something that once it happens to one person, it happens to us all.

“We will carry on making a stance, not just in football but in society. It’s got to change. So it’s important we stick together, which is something we’ll always do.”

Coady didn’t play against Hungary, but will start against Andorra in what is set to be a changed team for a match against one of the two weakest nations in the group.

Leeds striker Patrick Bamford might make his senior debut as England looks for a fifth straight win to open qualifying. Southgate’s team is five points clear in first place already.

Southgate didn’t say if Sterling or Bellingham will start.

One player who won’t feature is Jadon Sancho after the Manchester United forward sustained what England described on Saturday as a “minor knock” in training.

The injury ruled Sancho out of the game against Hungary and he has returned to United.

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England said Sancho is expected to recover in time for United’s home match against Newcastle in the Premier League next Saturday. That could be the game where Cristiano Ronaldo makes his first appearance for United following his move from Juventus.

The 21-year-old Sancho moved to United from Borussia Dortmund in the offseason for $100 million and is one of a slew of wing options available to Southgate leading up to the World Cup in Qatar next year.

“It’s disappointing for Jadon, first and foremost, because opportunities to play for England are obviously important and cherished,” Southgate said, “and we’ve only got another five camps before the World Cup.”

Southgate will not call up a replacement for the games against Andorra at Wembley Stadium and Poland away on Wednesday.

The game against Andorra will be England’s first at its national stadium since the Euro 2020 final.

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