Gareth Southgate's wife gave birth to the couple's second child on Wednesday...
Gareth Southgate's wife gave birth to the couple's second child on Wednesday and when the centre half met up with this youthful England squad on Sunday he must have felt more like a father than ever before...
With both Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell out of both Tuesday's game and next Wednesday's crucial encounter with Slovakia, there is a fair amount of responsibility on the shoulders of the oldest outfield member of the squad, but it's a challenge that Gareth Southgate is relishing.
The Middlesbrough skipper looks set to be Sven's defensive pivot against Serbia and Montenegro and the man who is a summer transfer target for many of the top clubs in the country believes he is reaching new highs in his levels of performance.
"I'm playing the best football I've played," he affirms, "but I hope it's not my peak because I believe that there are still more improvements to come."
Gareth also believes that his latest opportunity is a victory for patience. The former Crystal Palace and Aston Villa centre half has been in and around the international scene since Euro '96 but under Sven's tenure he has found himself behind the first choice pairing of Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand.
"The boss has stuck with Rio and Sol when they're fit but I've always said if you hang in there, you'll get your opportunity," he says.
"This is the reason why I'm here." Southgate's pride at representing his country is clear to see. At the beginning of the season, he told TheFA.com that he could not ever see himself retiring from the international game and his ambition still burns brightly.
"You want to play against the best and you realize when you're with England how much those big nights mean," he says.
"Every game for England is a big game."
Not least when players are vying to catch Sven's eye ahead of the Slovakia game, the biggest match that the three Lions will play in this country for the next year.
"People like Frank Lampard did particularly well against South Africa and tomorrow is another opportunity," says Southgate. And what does he make of the man tipped to play alongside him, Birmingham's in-form centre-half Matthew Upson?
"Martin Keown spoke very highly of him and it's been an incredible season for him," he says. If the pair do line-up together on Tuesday, there's no doubt that Gareth will be the Senior partner. He has 53 caps for his country now and is a firm believer that experienced defenders are better defenders.
"Experience means that your instinct takes you to where you believe there will be danger," he says. Gareth Southgate may be a father but he's also a defensive guardian.
From Daniel Freedman at the England Team Base in Ashby de la Zouch
Gareth Southgate - The Stat Pack
Place of Birth: Watford
Date of Birth: 3 September 1970
Weight: 12 03
Height: 6' 0''
England v Serbia and Montenegro: Match Centre