By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) -Chelsea forward Raheem Sterling was again left out by England manager Gareth Southgate as he named his squad for the forthcoming Euro 2024 qualifiers against Malta and North Macedonia.
Sterling, who has earned 82 caps for his country and was once a key part of Southgate’s forward line, has now missed five successive England squads.
The 28-year-old’s last appearance was almost a year ago in England’s World Cup quarter-final defeat by France when he came on as a substitute.
Despite Southgate saying the door remains open, time is clearly running out for Sterling to force his way back into the reckoning for the Euro 2024 finals.
“The door is 100% open not only for Raheem but for other players who aren’t in this squad, there’s no doubt about that,” Southgate told reporters.
“He’s a crucial part of why we’ve had the journey we’ve had over the last few years. I can only repeat what I said in the last few squad selection meetings, this squad is playing well, we had an exceptional win against Italy here, so who do we leave out? It’s as simple as that.”
With Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah ruled out through injury, Newcastle United forward Callum Wilson was included in the squad despite some injury concerns while Aston Villa’s in-form Ollie Watkins will likely get another chance to impress.
Manchester City’s John Stones misses out because of injury while Chelsea’s Reece James is also not included despite recently returning from a lengthy injury lay-off.
“I was hoping to call Reece James but he doesn’t feel he’s quite ready,” Southgate said.
England’s 3-1 win against Italy secured their place in the finals in Germany next year, but Southgate has resisted any temptation to experiment with different faces.
“Pretty much through this qualifying campaign we’ve deliberately not made many changes because we’ve felt that that’s been fair to the guys that have been in the squad. Performances have been excellent,” he said.
England face Malta in Group C at Wembley next Friday, the same opposition as in his first match in charge as caretaker in 2016 after Sam Allardyce’s resignation.
Since then England have been to a World Cup semi-final and quarter-final and the Euro 2020 final.
Asked whether he had any thoughts about renewing his contract beyond December 2024, Southgate said his only focus was on next year’s tournament in Germany.
“I think any manager that is thinking beyond seven months is in a very privileged position,” Southgate said. “I’m super excited about the tournament, we’re really gearing towards the next tournament and I think everybody in international football is always living from tournament to tournament.
“The last time we played Malta here I found out I was taking the team four days before the camp.”
Goalkeepers: Sam Johnstone (Crystal Palace), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal)
Defenders: Levi Colwill (Chelsea), Lewis Dunk (Brighton & Hove Albion), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle United), Kyle Walker (Manchester City)
Midfielders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Jordan Henderson (Al-Ettifaq), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Declan Rice (Arsenal)
Forwards: Jarrod Bowen (West Ham United) Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Bayern Munich), James Maddison (Tottenham Hotspur), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa), Callum Wilson (Newcastle United)
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis)
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