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England v Belgium: Declan Rice set for ‘pinch me’ moment as he wins 50th cap and captains Three Lions

Declan Rice
Declan Rice made his England debut in 2019 having switched his international allegiance from the Republic of Ireland

Declan Rice says it will be a “pinch me” moment as he captains England on his 50th appearance in Tuesday night’s friendly against Belgium at Wembley.

The 25-year-old Arsenal midfielder has become a key figure for the Three Lions side since making his debut in 2019.

He takes the captain’s armband, with Harry Kane and Kyle Walker out injured.

“On my 50th cap, to walk out at Wembley in front of my family and friends, it is a great honour – I’m a bit speechless,” Rice said.

“It is a pinch-me moment, it will be an honour. I was absolutely lost for words when he [Gareth Southgate] said to me I was going to be captain.”

It is almost exactly five years since Rice made his England debut against the Czech Republic, having switched his international allegiance from the Republic of Ireland for whom he appeared on three occasions.

During that time he has helped England reach the final of the 2020 European Championship and the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“I have grown so much as a player and person since I first came into the group,” he added.

“As time has gone on I’ve played more big games, more games at major tournaments. I have enjoyed every moment.”

Toney set to start as absentees mount

England boss Gareth Southgate has had to contend with numerous injury problems during the March international break.

Alongside Kane and Walker, Harry Maguire and Sam Johnstone are both out of Tuesday evening’s match while the likes of Bukayo Saka, Luke Shaw and Trent Alexander-Alexander Arnold are also among the absentees.

While that means others will be given their chance to stake their claim for this summer’s Euros in Germany, it is far from an ideal set of circumstances for the England boss.

“It is an incredible number who are unavailable to us,” Southgate said.

“I haven’t experienced that before, but it means there are opportunities for other people.

“You can’t worry about what we haven’t got. You’ve got to move forward. There’s a lot of different reasons for those injuries.”

Southgate confirmed Jude Bellingham is fit after cramp forced him off against Brazil on Saturday, while forwards Cole Palmer and Ivan Toney, midfielder James Maddison and defender Jarrad Branthwaite will also come into contention.

Toney received his first England call-up since serving an eight-month suspension for breaching FA betting rules, and the Brentford striker will play for the first time since his debut exactly a year ago.

“Ivan will be involved in the game for sure,” Southgate added. “I have to say, with everything that’s happened, the original idea or plan for the week is a little bit different.

“We’re probably finding out about more players but that’s really helpful. To see all those players against high-level opposition will help us make better decisions moving forward.”

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