England Hit by Defensive Absences Ahead of Belgium Friendly

England’s preparations for their upcoming friendly against Belgium have been dealt a blow with the news that defenders Kyle Walker and Harry Maguire, along with goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, have been ruled out of the match.

Walker sustained an injury during England’s recent 1-0 defeat to Brazil, forcing him off the pitch in the first half. Maguire, who took over the captaincy from Walker, also picked up an injury and was substituted in the 67th minute. Crystal Palace’s Johnstone, although not featuring in the Brazil game, has been sidelined as well.

To fill the void, England manager Gareth Southgate has called up Burnley goalkeeper James Trafford and Manchester City defender Rico Lewis from the England Under-21 squad. Trafford, 21, boasts experience from England’s victorious Euro Under-21 campaign last summer, while this marks Lewis’ first senior call-up after making his debut against North Macedonia in November.

The absence of key players like Walker and Maguire presents an opportunity for others to step up, with Bayern Munich striker Harry Kane and Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka already sidelined. Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins, who featured against Brazil, is expected to start against Belgium, while Brentford forward Ivan Toney is set to make his first England start.

Reflecting on Toney’s potential debut, Southgate emphasized the significance of seizing opportunities in the limited chances provided by international football. “With England that’s the landscape, you don’t get hundreds of opportunities,” Southgate remarked. He praised Toney’s confidence and self-belief, highlighting his contributions both on and off the ball.

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