CRAIG HOPE: Versatile Rico Lewis passes his England audition

CRAIG HOPE: Versatile Rico Lewis passes his England audition… the injustice of the harsh penalty awarded against him only inspired the Man City youngster

  • Youngster Rico Lewis made his England debut at leftback vs North Macedonia 
  • Lewis gave away a harsh penalty when his arm collided with Bojan Miovski
  • Trent and Bellingham can play together but can’t get in each other’s way – IAKO 

Terry Venables used to give his England players one instruction. Never mind simplifying it with one task, Gareth Southgate asked debutant Rico Lewis to play two positions. One of them, left-back, he has played only a handful of times.

But that is what is expected of Pep’s prodigies, these hybrid footballers for whom the term ‘academy graduate’ takes on intellectual meaning. 

Stepping into midfield when England had the ball, the transition was smooth, which could not be said of the pitch here in Skopje.

It was, though, in populating a third position that the moment arrived which threatened to define Lewis’ international bow, one day shy of his 19th birthday. 

Quite why, at 5ft 7ins, he was challenging for an aerial ball in the centre-back’s domain of the six-yard area is a mystery. 

Rico Lewis endured a difficult start to his England debut and was at fault for North Macedonia’s opening goal

Lewis’ arm collided with North Macedonia striker Bojan Miovski in the area as he jumped for a header

Lewis had a positive game despite the penalty and looked comfortable in possession for the Three Lions

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But so was the VAR intervention that deemed he had hit Bojan Miovski in the face when jumping, admirably, to win his header. Lewis is the son of a former Thai-boxing champion and has spent hours in the ring himself, he hits far harder than that.

The injustice – North Macedonia took the lead from the rebound of the saved penalty – could have floored Lewis, especially if fearing his name would forever be attached to an infamous defeat. This was not Phil Neville at Euro 2000, but such things can stick.

That it seemed to inspire Lewis still further was extremely telling. This should not really be a point of pride, but his shot in first-half injury-time was England’s first on target. The kid was leading the comeback from the front. Yes, in yet another position.

But in showing strength from adversity, he proved to Southgate a resilience needed at major tournaments, when England will inevitably run into some trouble against far better opposition than this. 

If this was Lewis’ audition for Euro 2024, you’d say the young man is on the plane. He might even find Southgate asking him to fly the thing as well as serve the drinks.

You would normally observe that Lewis had covered every blade of grass here, yet there weren’t that many on a patchy surface. 

And that is another thing, while more experienced team-mates saw passes go awry and blamed the bobbles, he never put a foot wrong.

If Venables was giving Southgate one instruction it could well be this – take Rico Lewis to Germany.

The Manchester City defender was forced to play leftback after injuries to Kieran Trippier, Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell


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