Against Romania, Ward-Prowse showed exactly what he can offer England
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Picture the scene, England are 15 minutes from being knocked out of the European Championship. Jack Grealish is already on the pitch and winning free-kick after free-kick. Who does Gareth Southgate want to send on to try to rescue the situation?
The answer should really settle the debate over who Southgate replaces Trent Alexander-Arnold with in his final 26-man squad and the England manager should be grateful he has got the chance to rectify what now appears to have been a mistake.
James Ward-Prowse surely did enough against Romania to convince Southgate that he is deserving of a place and it would be the Southampton midfielder who he would surely want to get on the pitch along with Dominic Calvert-Lewin if England were chasing a game.
There cannot be a better free-kick taker in the business and three times on Sunday night, Ward-Prowse reminded Southgate just how dangerous he can be from set pieces. One, in the first half, was headed onto the bar by Calvert-Lewin and another was touched into the hands of the goalkeeper by Ben Godfrey.
Ward-Prowse tried his luck with a shot on target from a third free-kick and opposition goalkeepers and defenders at the Euros would be terrified to see him place the ball anywhere within 35 yards of the goal.
- England vs Romania player ratings: Grealish stars as Ward-Prowse makes case for call-up
Ward-Prowse shows off her free-kick credentials against Romania
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Throw Harry Kane, who watched from the substitutes’ bench against Romania, into the mix and Ward-Prowse’s delivery could easily be the difference between England progressing in the tournament and getting knocked out when they inevitably have problems breaking down an opponent.
Remember too that Ward-Prowse is a penalty taker, who has also filled in at right-back for his club and the argument for his inclusion appears to be overwhelming.
It would be unfair to simply cast the 26-year-old as a dead ball specialist, given the tenacious way in which he snapped into tackles to win possession back high up the pitch and Ward-Prowse was also precise with his passing.
Ward-Prowse got a pat on the back from Southgate, who made him captain of England’s Under-21s, when he was replaced by Declan Rice with 25 minutes remaining and he would have known that he could barely have done any more to advance his case.
To go into the tournament without Ward-Prowse, while instead including an unfit Jordan Henderson, would be a huge gamble by Southgate. The Liverpool captain made his first appearance for three-and-a-half months as a second-half substitute in England’s final warm-up game and, understandably, he is still some way from full match sharpness.
Henderson was perhaps too keen to secure the Hollywood ending when he grabbed the ball for the 78th-minute penalty that Calvert-Lewin had won. He had never scored for England and thought this would be the perfect time to end that run. It was not and the fact his spot-kick was saved will only have strengthened Roy Keane’s belief that Henderson’s bid to prove his fitness is a distraction.
It would seem impossible for Henderson to start England’s first group game against Croatia and Keane, in his role as a pundit for ITV, questioned the 30-year-old’s inclusion in Southgate’s squad.
“It’s a huge distraction,” said Keane. “Clearly Jordan’s not fit – I don’t think he should be involved. He can’t be fit, if he can’t start the game against Romania. To have not kicked a ball for three-and-a-half months, going into a European Championship. He can’t be right.
“I’ve heard people say they want him around the place – for what? Does he do card tricks? Does he have a sing song? Does he do quizzes in the evenings? What does he do and if you were Liverpool you wouldn’t be happy either. Surely Jordan doesn’t want to be around the place either being some sort of cheerleader. You want to play and he’s clearly nowhere near it because what you need after being out three-and-a-half months out is three or four quiet games maybe. He’s clearly not fit enough.”
Henderson almost atoned for his penalty miss with a lovely pass for Calvert-Lewin that could have ended with a second goal for England and the fact Southgate has three extra places in his squad means, despite what Keane claims, the former Sunderland youngster is worth his place.
But it must be alongside Ward-Prowse, who really should have been in the 26 from the start.
Southgate will not let Henderson ‘pull rank’ again after penalty miss
By Matt Law
Gareth Southgate vowed not to let Jordan Henderson “pull rank” again after the midfielder missed a penalty that he was not meant to take in England’s final warm-up game for Euro 2020.
Manager Southgate also defended the inclusion of Henderson in his squad after Roy Keane described the Liverpool captain as a “huge distraction” given his lack of match fitness.
A penalty from Marcus Rashford was enough to earn England a 1-0 victory over Romania and the success should have been more comfortable. But Henderson, who had come on as a second-half substitute after three-and-a-half months out, took England’s second penalty off Dominic Calvert-Lewin and saw his spot-kick saved.
It meant Henderson has still not scored for England and Southgate was clearly unhappy with him for taking matters into his own hands.
“We had Marcus Rashford on penalties then James Ward-Prowse, but both came off,” said Southgate. “We expected Dominic Calvert-Lewin to take it and I was expecting Hendo to go over to him and let him take it. We will pull rank next time.
“With the penalties, we’re very diligent in how we practice them. I didn’t expect what happened to happen. I wouldn’t expect that to happen again.”
Henderson said he was 'getting stronger all the time' ahead of the Euros
Henderson said: “I was confident, but it was a good save. It wasn’t a great penalty, a good height for the goalkeeper but I am not too bothered. It would have been nice to cap the comeback off with a goal.”
In his role as an ITV pundit, Keane claimed Henderson is not fit enough to be part of Southgate’s squad, saying: “It’s a huge distraction. I’ve heard people say they want him around the place – for what? Does he do card tricks? Does he have a sing song? Does he do quizzes in the evenings?”
But Southgate said: “Firstly, we’re certainly not distracted by anything. We know the situation Hendo is in. He’s been a very positive influence in the camp, within the group.
“It’s a step forward for him physically today, which was important in order for him to be able to play some sort of part in the tournament and we’re realistic about what that could be, so it’s not a situation where it’s dividing the group or we’re unrealistic about what’s possible. We’re not hanging our hat on him being fit. If we can get him to a good level then that’s a bonus. We’ve got 26 players, which has never been the case before.”
On his fitness, having played his first 45 minutes since February 20, Henderson added: “I’m feeling very good, to get back onto the pitch was pleasing for me. I came through 45 minutes after a while out so happy with that and felt pretty good as well during the game. Delighted with that and have another week’s training until the first game so hopefully I can recover well.
“I didn’t need to take any risks with the Austria friendly, I have been training hard with the England team and did not feel 100 per cent going into that game. We thought the wisest thing to do was to get ready for the Romania game and I felt good and it was important. Overall, the right decision. I am getting stronger all the time."