Sports

Southgate ‘surprised’ by fan numbers for closed-doors game in Hungary


England coach Gareth Southgate said he was “surprised” that 35,000 fans will be in attendance for Saturday’s Nations League game against Hungary due to take place behind closed doors in Budapest.

Hungary were ordered by both UEFA and FIFA to play matches without crowds after racist behaviour by their fans last year.

But the Hungarian FA is using a loophole in UEFA’s regulations that allow children to attend. According to the rules every 10 children must be accompanied by one adult.

The English FA is implementing a similar programme for the behind-closed-doors game against Italy at Molineux next week, but has limited the numbers to around 3,000 children from local, England Football-accredited under-14 teams.

“I think we are all surprised,” Southgate said of the expected numbers of Hungary fans.

“But we are inviting children into our stadium so I wasn’t really clear on the rules of any of it at the start of all of this. I don’t know what the figure should be or shouldn’t be.

“Other people have got to deal with that. We’ve got to make sure that we are consistent in our beliefs, the stand we take as a team, the fact that we are united on it being unacceptable and it is for other people to administer sanctions.

“Once we are administering sanctions, it has gone too far anyway. The key is education. The young people in the stadium hopefully pick that message up tomorrow.”

Hungary were also sanctioned by FIFA after their fans racially abused England players during a World Cup qualifier at the Puskas Arena last September.

“We have got to deal with whatever comes to us. We have made our feelings clear on where we stand on inclusivity and our feelings in terms of racism and its unacceptability,” said Southgate.

England’s stadium ban, which also came with a suspended second game, was handed down after the behaviour of supporters ahead of the Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy at Wembley.

Southgate revealed Friday that Manchester City midfielder Phil Foden has been ruled out of the matches against Hungary and Germany after testing positive for Covid-19.

Foden has left the squad’s training centre but Southgate said he could return for games at home to Italy and Hungary on June 11 and 14.

“Phil Foden has tested positive for Covid so he has had to leave,” Southgate said.

“Hopefully he will be able to meet up when we come back from Germany. It depends on his symptoms and how his breathing is. It affects everyone differently.”

Defenders Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guehi are injured and will be unavailable against Hungary, while Raheem Sterling is a doubt having missed some training sessions.

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