Gareth Southgate is willing to accept any criticism that comes his way after making eight changes for England’s World Cup defeat to Belgium.
Adnan Januzaj’s second-half goal condemned Southgate’s side to a 1-0 defeat in Kaliningrad on Thursday evening, a result which left England second in Group G and set up a last-16 clash with Colombia next Tuesday.
With the World Cup’s leading scorer Harry Kane among the players left on the bench, Marcus Rashford missed England’s best chance to equalise when he was played through by Jamie Vardy.
But Southgate insisted his main priority to give all of his outfield players time on the pitch ahead of the knockout stage.
He said: “When you’re a manager you’ve got to make decisions that are right for your group and are right for the primary objective.
“Sometimes those decisions will be criticised and I understand that. Only one person has to make that decision with the full facts and the intricacies of managing a group and a tournament.
“As a group of staff, we were very clear on what we felt was needed physically, medically and tactically for the benefit of the group.
“We’ve got 20 outfield players that have played in a World Cup and that’s hugely important for the feeling in our camp over the next few weeks. Maybe we could have pushed a bit more by putting other players into the game tonight but we still created chances. We had one absolutely fantastic chance to tie the game.
“I had to balance that and I know in some quarters that will be criticised but I’m entirely comfortable with that. Sometimes you have to make decisions for the bigger picture.”
John Stones was substituted at half-time, but Southgate insisted that was planned and the defender has no injury concerns.
And he admitted keeping his players fit and fresh was a major part of his approach.
“Our primary objective today was a mid-term one really and that was to get everybody time on the pitch and they are ready now to start or come into a match.
“Those that didn’t play have been protected and we have everybody to select from going into the knock-out phase.
“The other important thing was to be competitive right to the final whistle and I think we did that.
“Trying to balance all of those objectives and trying to win can be difficult but sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture and make decisions that might, in some quarters be criticised but I think everybody in our dressing room and our group understands what we’re trying to do.”
He added: “If we’d put Harry Kane on for 10 minutes and somebody wacked him down the ankle, that would be ridiculous. Everybody knows the most important game is the knockout game.”
Colombia reached the last 16 following a 1-0 win over Senegal earlier on Thursday, but Southgate believes his players can beat them in Moscow next week.
“They’ve got some outstanding individuals but I believe it’s a game we can win,” he said.
“It is a fantastic, fantastic challenge for us. The numbers they’ve got supporting them is clear and some outstanding individual players but we feel we are a team that is improving.
“It was shown again tonight that we’ve still got levels to reach and we’ve still got work to do, but that’s nothing we didn’t know.
“Maybe that’s not a bad thing. If we’d won tonight then the reality of where we are might not have bene in people’s minds.”