Rice receives England call-up for Euro qualifiers

LONDON (AFP) – Declan Rice’s decision to switch international allegiance to England was rewarded with his first call-up to Gareth Southgate’s squad yesterday for Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Czech Republic and Montenegro later this month.

West Ham midfielder Rice made three international appearances for the Republic of Ireland, but all of them in friendly matches meaning he was still eligible for England.

The highly rated 20-year-old was born in London but qualified for Ireland via paternal grandparents.

However, after much deliberation, he announced last month that he would play for England. His switch was ratified by FIFA last week.

“I think they are really big decisions when you are asking a player to transfer association. You’ve got to be very clear that you feel they have a future with you,” said England manager Southgate.

West Ham United’s Declan Rice celebrates during a match. – AFP

“That said, there were never any guarantees made to him because I think that is very important as well. You’ve got to be playing well to get in the squad, but his form has been excellent.”

Apart from calling up Rice, Southgate largely stayed loyal to the core of players who helped England reach the World Cup semi-finals last summer and have qualified for the inaugural Nations League semi-finals in June.

Eric Dier, Fabian Delph and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are included despite limited playing time at Tottenham, Manchester City and Chelsea respectively. Meanwhile, Leicester’s James Maddison and in-form Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse missed out.

“You could look at Fabian Delph and say he has not been playing for Manchester City, but he was our best player against Croatia (last November) so balancing all that has been difficult this time,” added Southgate.

“We have qualified for a semi-final in the summer. It would be strange to make huge changes to that squad, but we have added another young player in Declan.”

Despite Rice’s change of heart, Southgate also insisted he will not simply cap players to prevent them switching international allegiance.

Southampton and England under-21 goalkeeper Angus Gunn has been courted by Scotland, while promising Crystal Palace right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka is of Congolese descent.

“I’m not prepared to pick players just to stop the possibility of other countries picking them,” he added.

“Aaron Wan-Bissaka is playing very well, and really pushing to be in our squad. I could pick players to give them a cap and stop them from playing somewhere else but I don’t think that is right.”