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Rice key to Southgate's new England: a team hard to beat and hard to love | Jonathan Liew

The West Ham midfielder has quietly become the linchpin of Gareth Southgate’s increasingly conservative England side

Anybody stumbling upon Wembley Stadium on Wednesday night after a long deep sleep would probably be wildly confused by the spectacle greeting them. And in a sense England v Iceland – a Nations League dead rubber played in silence in the midst of a locked-down city – is the football game as philosophical paradox, a fixture whose meaning essentially derives from having none. An ancient folk ritual whose true origins are long forgotten to history. Ask not why, child. As our fathers bequeathed to us, and their fathers before them: it is written on the Uefa website, and so it will be done.

Related: Southgate praises 'outstanding' Grealish after England's Nations League exit

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