Gareth Southgate lauds 'maturity' of England players after racist abuse in Hungary

Three Lions face Andorra at Wembley three days after the 'unacceptable' incidents at Puskas Arena

England manager Gareth Southgate has lauded his players' maturity after the 2022 World Cup qualifying match in Hungary on Thursday saw Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham subjected to racist abuse.

Manchester City forward Sterling scored the first goal in the convincing 4-0 win but the result was overshadowed by the abuse aimed at the visitors' black players. As well as the targeting of Sterling and Bellingham, there were boos from the crowd when the England team took a knee before kick-off.

Football's world governing body Fifa vowed to take "appropriate action" against Hungary, while British Prime Minister described the incidents as "completely unacceptable".

Speaking ahead of England's next World Cup qualifier against Andorra on Sunday, Southgate said his team deserves plenty of credit for the way they handled the situation.

“Unfortunately, I don’t know how many camps in the last four years but I seem to have been talking about this subject almost every time we have been together," Southgate, 51, said.

“I can only reiterate that our players are incredibly mature in the way they deal with it. I think they feel supported by their teammates, which is very important to them.

“I think their teammates recognise 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 that we have done and hope that we continue to send the right messages, not only to people in football but across society, and that everybody keeps progressing. We know it’s going to take time and we know that feels very slow for everybody, but we have to keep fighting that battle.”

Southgate was joined at the press conference by defender Conor Coady, who, when asked if the hostility and racism the team faced had impacted on morale in the camp, said: “Not at all, I’ll be honest with you.

“We speak about it all the time," the Wolves captain said. “We’ll carry on doing what we’re doing, carry on trying to take a stance and in terms of not just in football but in society we want to try to help, and help change."

Looking ahead to the game against Andorra at Wembley Stadium, as England aim to make it five wins from five in Group I, Southgate said there would be “a lot of changes” to the team. Coady is expected to play and it appears likely there will be a debut for Leeds striker Patrick Bamford.

On the prospect of playing for his country at Wembley in front of fans, Coady said: “Any time you play at Wembley is a special feeling, a special moment. Even last season when I managed to play in those games, the feeling of just being there playing for your country was incredible.

“But now that my family has a chance to come and watch the game, I think it is a special feeling, a proud moment for everybody in my family. The boys were fantastic the other night and it’s something where we want to go out there now, and we can’t wait for it.”

Updated: September 4th 2021, 3:51 PM
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