Gareth Southgate has moved to draw a line under England’s ‘OneLove’ armband fiasco, saying the squad should “channel our energies” elsewhere after the Football Association’s climbdown on Monday morning.
Just three hours before kick-off, England abandoned plans for captain Harry Kane to use a rainbow-coloured armband in their opening World Cup game against Iran after FIFA said players who wear it would be yellow-carded.
Kane instead wore FIFA’s own anti-discrimination armband as England thrashed Iran 6-2, with goals from Jude Bellingham, a Bukayo Saka double, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish.
Southgate afterwards insisted the issue had not been a distraction, and sympathised with FIFA -- but suggested he wanted the players to now be allowed to focus purely on training and matches.
“The armband is not something the players or myself have been involved with over the last 24 hours, the discussions have been ongoing between several European nations and FIFA,” the England manager said after the game at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
“I do understand FIFA’s situation in that if you set precedent it’s very difficult then and where do you draw a line?
“I think in an ideal world, it would have been a much clearer situation earlier but it’s not something that’s been a distraction for us because we said yesterday we had to focus on the football.
“There’s so much else going on but we can’t really be involved in that, we’ve just got to concentrate on performances, our training. Especially the players, it’s not for them to have to deal with that. People know what we stand for, people know this group of players. We’re taking the knee because it’s something we thought we could make a difference with.
“There are some things that I’m not sure we are going to make a difference with and therefore we should channel our energies in the right directions.”
England scored three times in each half, with substitutes Rashford and Grealish getting in on the act, and Southgate was pleased with his side’s attacking threat, even if he was frustrated that they twice conceded to Medhi Taremi after the break.
“We have some good players and today they really delivered,” he said. “Our attacking players look a threat, our defence in the first hour controlled the game and were patient. The midfield were excellent and our forwards looked a threat. It is a great maker to put down.”
“What I particularly liked was Jack Grealish’s goal with Callum Wilson on. He could have been selfish but he was thinking of the team even at that moment. I’m a miserable so and so. I should be more excited but I have to keep the team on the right track.”
Harry Maguire was substituted midway through the second half, while Kane also also replaced, having earlier appeared to turn his ankle.
“He [Maguire] felt ill, he’d flagged it just before the goal and give the state of the game we felt no point in carrying on,” Southgate said.
“Other than that I haven’t really seen anything of concern.
“I think Harry [Kane] is fine, it obviously looked a bad tackle but he carried on in the game and we took him off really because we felt it was a moment we could do that.”