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Ruben Loftus-Cheek in line for England start against Panama

Dele Alli injured, opens door for Ruben

Tunisia v England: Group G - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images

In Monday’s excellent yet still narrow and tense 2-1 win over Tunisia, Ruben Loftus-Cheek only had a 20-minute cameo for England. But it was an impactful 20 minutes. Playing as a right-side attacking midfielder (his position at Crystal Palace) he made a number of penetrating runs down the right and into the box, and he and fellow substitute Marcus Rashford showed instant chemistry.

Loftus-Cheek wan’t just on the pitch for Harry Kane’s winner, he was the one whose play forced the corner kick that led to it. (Ed.note: or as they’re also know, “Torres points”.)

All in all, it was a fine World Cup debut for the 22-year-old. And if reports are to be believed, it didn’t go unnoticed by Gareth Southgate, who was already in a big fan. Loftus-Cheek may be in the for ultimate reward, a World Cup start.

A scan after the Tunisia match showed that Dele Alli has a mild thigh strain. He was limping on Sunday and may be held out of training. Panama — rightly or wrongly — are considered the weakest team in the group and so Southgate probably won’t be inclined to risk further injury.

Cue Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Back in March, starting for England in the World Cup must have seemed like a distant dream. He had just suffered a setback in his attempt to rehabilitate his injured ankle. The season was entering its final stretch and time was running out for him to convince Southgate that he was worth a gamble.

On March 17th, he played one minute for Crystal Palace. Two weeks later he played 17 minutes. Roy Hodgson was convinced. And a fairy tale began. RLC started Palace’s final six matches, was massively impressive, won over Southgate, found his way onto the England squad ... and now he may be set for his debut, according to The Guardian.

It’s already a great story. There’s a chance it will be too much, too soon, with too many expectations. But if Loftus-Cheek stays in character, the character that’s seen him through setbacks and doubts about his future, he won’t be overwhelmed. He’s consistently shown a maturity beyond his years. We look forward to a composed and professional outing.

Go Ruben!

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