Southgate: Rice critics haven't walked in his shoes

Rice handed first England call-up after switch from Ireland

In a statement in February, Rice said he considered himself "mixed nationality" and that making the decision was "not a clear-cut, simple selection".

The mentality of goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is less clear-cut, however, having been called into question after a series of mistakes in the recent Everton defeat to Newcastle, where he was spotted sticking his tongue out - behaviour labelled "bizarre" and "ridiculous" by former England captain Alan Shearer.

West Ham United's Declan Rice (right) celebrates after Felipe Anderson (background) celebrates scoring his side's second goal of the game during the Premier League match at St Mary's, Southampton.

And four months on from their last game, which saw England beat Croatia at Wembley to reach the UEFA Nations League semi-final, Southgate admits the situation is different for a lot of his players with their clubs and there has also been the emergence of other options.

On Rice call-up: "We've tracked him for quite a while".

"You've got to be really clear that you feel they have a future with you". But his form has been excellent.

England host Czech Republic on March 22 before taking on Montenegro in Podgorica three days later.

"We like his character, his leadership qualities and he can play as a holding midfielder or a defender".

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"We have had players eligible for us who have been with us at under-16s and other countries have given them senior caps very early", Southgate told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"When you're picking a squad, there's got to be an element of what the players are doing with their clubs and what they have done with us".

Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton has also been recalled having not featured for his country in almost two years.

"We are looking forward to working with him next week".

The Football Association of Ireland announced Tuesday that Rice was the country's young player of the year, saying he would still receive the award because it "maintains the integrity of the voting process".

What happened to players needing to "be playing regularly and in good form" to make the squad, Gareth? "If we can provide hope and optimism through our performances then that's part of our responsibility as a team".

"I'm never keen to say who is the number one because you have to have competition and we will help Jordan what was hopefully a blip at the weekend".

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