Gareth Southgate says he was impressed by England captain Harry Kane’s reaction to being left out of Thursday’s 1-0 loss to Belgium.
Kane scored five goals in England’s opening two wins and leads the race for the World Cup Golden Boot.
But, with England already through to the last-16, Southgate decided the Belgium match was an opportunity to rest first-choice players and give the other squad members some game-time.
Kane did not even get a look-in off the bench and Southgate said: “I felt the need to sit with him, but he was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
“He totally understood, 100 percent team-first.
“He said ‘look, I know everyone says I want the Golden Boot – of course it’s something I want to do – but the main thing is getting the team through the first knockout’.
“He was excellent on that, showed real leadership and understanding of the big picture.”
Kane will be back in the side on Tuesday night, when England will face Colombia in what Southgate has dubbed their “biggest match in a decade”.
Southgate’s decision to make eight changes for the Belgium game has met with a mixed response but the manager says he has more important things to worry about.
Asked if he had put himself under pressure by making so many alterations in Kaliningrad, Southgate said: “Well, maybe I have, maybe I haven’t. That is the least of my concerns.
“The most important thing for me is the players are in the best physical condition for the game.
“I don’t think mentally we lose anything, because they know we’ve made changes and they know Belgium weren’t their full team as well.
“So, we’re in two big matches where margins will be fine and judgement on me will be extremely harsh. That’s why we’re here. We want to be in those games.
“I wasn’t so comfortable with the love-in (before the Belgium game), to be honest so, nice that there’s a little bit of an edge back.”