England: Gareth Southgate confirms Ivan Toney will be handed chance to audition for Harry Kane understudy role

England: Gareth Southgate confirms Ivan Toney will be handed chance to audition for Harry Kane understudy role

Ivan Toney is set to be handed the chance to stake his Euro 2024 claim when England meet Belgium on Tuesday night, in what is the final match before Gareth Southgate names his squad for the summer tournament.

Toney was an unused substitute in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Brazil at Wembley, with Southgate instead giving Ollie Watkins a full 90 minutes in his audition for the role of understudy to Harry Kane.

Kane missed the game with an ankle injury and has since left the squad to return to Bayern Munich to undergo treatment.

Fitness permitting, though, the Three Lions skipper is certain to lead the line at the Euros and, with squad sizes back down to 23, Southgate is unlikely to be able to afford the luxury of taking two specialist deputies.

That would appear to leave Toney and Watkins in direct competition for one place, with Southgate admitting the meeting with Belgium represents a huge opportunity for the Brentford talisman, who made his sole England appearance as a late substitute against Ukraine exactly a year ago.

"You can’t hide that fact,” Southgate said. "He knows. It would be his first [international] start so you’ve got to bear that in mind as well. But with England that’s the landscape, you don’t get hundreds of opportunities. I think every player recognises that’s the world we live in.

“He’s a confident guy, he comes in on the back of a good run of form with his club. He’s going to be on the field on Tuesday, no question.

"That swagger, that self-belief is crucial. All of the top forward players have it.”

Toney was recalled for this month’s international break having returned from an eight-month ban for betting breaches at the end of January.

While the 28-year-old has made a decent return to action, with four goals in ten games for Brentford, Watkins has the clear edge on form.

The Aston Villa striker is enjoying a superb campaign, with 16 goals and ten assists in the Premier League and only Erling Haaland, on 18, ahead of him in the race for the Golden Boot.

Toney is, however, seen as a more similar centre-forward to Kane in terms of playing style and brings the added benefit of an outstanding penalty record.

"I think sometimes the quality of his football can be underestimated,” Southgate added. “His passing, his link play.

“We’re still getting to know all of those strengths because until you work with a player more regularly you don’t know them inside out. You look at him being a big guy but he’s not just a target man. His quality in link play is very good as well.

“[His penalty record] is definitely a great asset to have. We’ve obviously got to work out the balance of the squad.”