Roberto Martinez signs two-year Belgium extension

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Roberto Martinez will sign a two-year contract extension today to remain as Belgium head coach until 2020.

Belgium, preparing for the World Cup in Russia at which they will face group games against Panama, Tunisia and England, announced the former Everton boss’s new deal on Friday morning.

The Belgian Red Devils posted on Twitter: “R. Martinez will renew his contract today ! #2moreyears #REDTOGETHER #WorldCup”

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Marcus Rashford has to ‘focus his mind on learning and improving’, says Andy Cole

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AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - MARCH 23: Marcus Rashford of England in action during the International Friendly match between Netherlands and England at Amsterdam ArenA also called the Johan Cruyff Arena on March 23, 2018 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Marcus Rashford has been urged not to be discouraged by his lack of game-time at Manchester United this season by former Red Devils striker Andy Cole.

The 20-year-old forward has found himself in and out of Jose Mourinho’s team and though he has scored 13 times for the club, only four of those have come after a goal in the Manchester derby on December 10.

A large reason for that has been his lack of opportunities. Rashford did not start a Premier League game between the Boxing Day draw with Burnley and the win over Liverpool on March 10, when he scored twice in a 2-1 United victory.

The England forward played 90 minutes in the Champions League loss to Sevilla three days later but then only appeared off the bench in the following four games.

Cole, who was part of a group of forwards Sir Alex Ferguson rotated between during the 1999 treble-winning season, understands that Rashford may have been frustrated but has implored him not to get downhearted by it.

“It’s been a sticky one for him this season, it really has,” Cole said.

“(He’s had) not as many minutes as he would have liked.

“With Marcus, he has to focus his mind on learning and improving and wanting to become a better player.

“Sometimes when you don’t get minutes your mind goes elsewhere because you’re worried about getting minutes. Then, when you do come on, it’s difficult to try and get into a game or when you start you put yourself under massive pressure.

“If he’s prepared to learn and work on the things that got him into the team in the first place, he’ll be okay. You’ve got to still want to learn, still want to improve.

“It’s all about minutes. When you do something like (the Liverpool game) and get left out of the team, it’s in your nature to question yourself, why you’re not in the team.

“The first person you’ll always ask that question is to yourself. No doubt he will have been disappointed that he didn’t go on a bigger run.”

Rashford only turned 20 in October but Cole knows the level of expectation at Old Trafford means he cannot afford to stand still.

“He’s a young player, you’re still learning the game,” Cole added.

“At this club you have to learn a little bit quicker because a lot’s expected of you. A lot of young boys have got in this team and played very, very well.

“It’s a process for players like Marcus to keep learning, wanting to improve, kicking on. You have to believe in yourself, put that extra bit of graft in to become one of the best young players in the world.”

Rashford’s chances have been limited by Mourinho’s reliance on Romelu Lukaku as his central striker.

The Belgian has played over 1,000 minutes more than Rashford in the Premier League and has scored 27 goals in all competitions despite attracting criticism from some quarters.

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Young England squad shouldn't write-off World Cup chances, says coach Gareth Southgate

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Southgate addressed the media at Wembley on Thursday.

Southgate appeared at Wembley to discuss his fresh-faced 23-man squad for Russia and insisted he had selected the best available players, not just those with the most to learn.

Long-term number one Joe Hart was one of those who fell on the wrong side of Southgate’s judgement but the Three Lions boss was careful to stress it was not the end of the road for the 31-year-old.

His chosen goalkeeping unit of Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland and Nick Pope have a combined nine international caps to Hart’s 75, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Fabian Delph have 11 in total and Trent Alexander-Arnold has yet to feature, but Southgate countered Gary Lineker’s suggestion that the tournament should be seen as nothing more than a learning curve.

“I don’t think when you play or are involved with England you can ever write off any game or any tournament. That wouldn’t be acceptable,” he said.

“We know usually teams that win tournaments have a lot more caps than we do, a lot more experience of semi-finals and finals.

“This group, we really don’t know. We have great faith in them, we know they lack big match experience but how are they going to get that? The only way is to put them in.

“We think this is the best group of players available, we think they can be very exciting now and even more exciting in the future. I don’t want to limit what they think is possible because they’re young and hungry and they want to have a go at things.

“That’s what we’ve got to do at this tournament, really enjoy the ride.”

Southgate confirmed it was his decision to leave Hart off the standby list as well as the main squad – Burnley’s Tom Heaton takes that role – but suggested it would not be appropriate to ask the former first choice to act as back-up.

The door remains open to a future call-up, though, assuming Hart finds a new club in the summer and regains top form.

“Of course it was a difficult call. He played in most of our qualifying matches, he’s been a big part of the England team the last few years and he’s a valued member of the squad,” said Southgate.

“But in the end I’ve got to look at performances over the last 18 months with their clubs and the three lads we picked were the three best goalkeepers in the league this year.

“I pick players on form and if he (Hart) is playing well for his club, why wouldn’t we select him?

“There’s no reason for this to be the end. He has an important career decision this summer and I hope he can be back at his very best.”

Southgate expanded on the decision to omit midfielder Jack Wilshere, suggesting a dip in form over recent months was more important than his patchy fitness record.

Wilshere retains a cachet among sections of fans and media but has yet to win over a sceptical Southgate, and pulled out through injury after being called up for the March friendlies.

“He’s been in our thoughts but of course he hasn’t played a game for us,” the England boss said.

“Jack had a good spell in the lead-up to Christmas and after, but wasn’t as effective after that. I think other guys have played well and deserve their places in the squad.

Southgate did not reference Jonjo Shelvey specifically but appeared unconvinced by the Newcastle playmaker’s claims and hinted “character and personality” were more important than on-field disciplinary concerns.

As for the absence of Liverpool’s Adam Lallana, another one of the five players on reserve, Southgate expressed regret at the fitness issues which have dogged him this season.

“I’ve had continual dialogue with Adam this season, close and personal conversations,” he said.

“It’s been a really frustrating season for him. Under normal circumstances, given the amount of football he’s played, he wouldn’t be anywhere near the squad or the standby list, but he’s a player and a person we have a hell of a lot of time for.”

Southgate did not take the chance to announce his captain for the tournament but indicated his final decision could be revealed when the team come together at St George’s Park on Sunday.

Harry Kane, Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier are the likeliest contenders.

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