Burnley keeper Nick Pope is one of four uncapped players rewarded for their brilliant Premier League form with an England call-up by Gareth Southgate.
Pope’s Burnley team-mate James Tarkowski, who was also a target of Poland, plus Swansea centre back Alfie Mawson and Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook are the other new boys in the squad to face Italy and Holland this month.
Jack Wilshere was handed a World Cup lifeline by Southgate at St George’s Park on Thursday afternoon as he returns for the first time since Euro 2016, while Adam Lallana and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are also recalled.
England boss Gareth Southgate (left) announces his squad at St George’s Park on Thursday
Southgate has called up four rookies for the matches against Italy and Holland this month
Manchester United defender Chris Smalling, Chelsea captain Gary Cahill and Everton centre back Michael Keane have all been left out of the squad.
On his quartet of uncapped call-ups, Southgate said: ‘With Nick Pope his form has been excellent. It’s great credit to Sean Dyche that we have got two Burnley players in our squad.
‘We need to find out a bit more about them because if we lose one of our more experienced players then we will need them to fill the void, but Nick’s form has warranted his place in the squad.’
Wilshere hasn’t played for England since the shocking Euro 2016 defeat to Iceland, while Southgate had not selected the midfielder in any squads since being appointed permanent manager of the national team in November 2016.
Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope is called into Southgate’s squad for the first time
Swansea defender Alfie Mawson (left) and Burnley’s James Tarkowski also won places
Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook completes the quartet of newcomers into the squad
Southgate insisted Wilshere’s omission was down to the fact that he was not playing regular first-team football at the Emirates Stadium. But having won his place back in Arsenal’s team, Southgate has recalled the resurgent 26-year-old into his squad as he finalises his plans for Russia 2018.
‘Jack has unquestionable talent,’ said Southgate. ‘The key for me is he’s now playing in the games that matter for Arsenal and playing well, (showing) his technical ability, passing ability. Lewis Cook is in the same vein, nice range of passing.’
Southgate said it was ‘probably a very difficult call’ to drop Cahill, who has captained England in the past. He said the Chelsea defender could win back favour before the World Cup, adding: ‘I think there are a few players not in this squad who are certainly not out of our mind.’
The England boss explained his selection process had been complicated, saying: ‘My preference is always that you have clarity for the players, in terms of you need to be playing regularly, you need to be in good form.
‘It’s obvious to everybody we have a very small number of English-qualified players playing in the Premier League. On top of that a lot of our better players have missed time with injury or through selection have missed matches.
‘So leading into a World Cup I’ve got to look at who are the players we believe can play at the level, and who are the players who have done well for us in the past.
‘There are clearly some inclusions of players that are playing well for their club and who are getting their first call-up. So there is a little bit of a complex minefield to get through.’
Chelsea captain Gary Cahill is a notable absentee given the inexperienced call-ups
Meanwhile, Southgate was handed a significant fitness boost ahead of the squad announcement as he discovered Harry Kane is virtually certain to be fit for the World Cup.
Tottenham have confirmed the talismanic striker will miss the rest of March after damaging ankle ligaments in Sunday’s win over Bournemouth, ruling him out of the forthcoming international friendlies.
But Kane is expected to start training next month, with sources claiming the prolific forward’s return to action is likelier to happen towards the start of April.
Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere has finally won back his place in England’s squad
The news comes as a huge relief to Southgate ahead of Russia 2018, with Kane certain to play a vital role for his side this summer.
Kane now looks certain to play a role in Tottenham’s run-in, which will help ensure the striker is fully fit going into the tournament.
Southgate is disappointed to be without his star striker but believes England can cope with his absence.
‘I think the medical reports we have are that for sure he’ll play well before the end of the season,’ said Southgate. ‘You never want any player to experience injury and of course Tottenham have some very big matches coming up. It’s a disappointment for us not to have Harry with us.
‘But I think of the 14 matches I’ve had in charge he’s only actually been available for six and within those six he’s scored seven goals. So there’s an indication of his importance and his standing for us. Having said that, we’ve had to cope without him and it’s important we’re able to cope without him because you never know what’s going to happen in football.
‘And in those other matches, the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy have all stepped forward and scored important goals – and Jermain Defoe.
‘Always part of what I’m working on is the strength of the squad and people who are able to come in because we’ve been to previous tournaments and lost important players and the whole focus has been on that rather than the collective.’
Harry Kane will miss the upcoming friendlies against Holland and Italy with an ankle injury
Southgate remains fully focused on preparing his team for the World Cup despite the current political tensions between the UK and tournament hosts Russia.
Southgate said: ‘Clearly it’s a really serious matter and it’s developing very quickly. But my job as the England football manager is to concentrate on the football and prepare the team.
‘As far as all my briefings and information is, we’re preparing to go to the World Cup, there’s no doubt in our mind that’s what we should be doing.
‘And the only thing at this stage that is of highest importance is the safety and security of our players and absolutely of our travelling supporters. They’re the things we’re focused on really.
‘I think it’s a matter that’s completely out of my control really. We are desperate to go to a World Cup and that’s where my remit ends on that matter.’
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart, Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford, Nick Pope
Defenders: Ryan Bertrand, Danny Rose, Harry Maguire, John Stones, Joe Gomez, James Tarkowski, Alfie Mawson, Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier
Midfielders: Ashley Young, Eric Dier, Lewis Cook, Jake Livermore, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Forwards: Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli, Danny Welbeck, Jamie Vardy