Wilfried Zaha: England boss Gareth Southgate understands winger's choice

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Wilfried ZahaWilfried Zaha has won 26 caps for the Ivory Coast

England boss Gareth Southgate says he understands Wilfried Zaha's decision to play for Ivory Coast as the Crystal Palace forward prepares to face the Three Lions at Wembley on Tuesday.

Zaha, 29, won two caps for England - making his debut in November 2012 with Raheem Sterling - before switching to the country of his birth in 2016.

He was able to do that because both England appearances came in friendlies.

"He's a talent," said Southgate, who managed Zaha at under-21 level.

Zaha, who was born in Abidjan and moved to London aged four, has won 26 caps for Ivory Coast and played in the Africa Cup of Nations three times.

"He's a good player playing at a high level every week," added Southgate.

"He felt the Ivory Coast was the route to go and I totally understood that. It's hard to say what his role might have been with us.

"Raheem has been a key part of our team for a long period, Jesse Lingard had done a fabulous job and, at the start, we had Adam Lallana, who was our player of the year for the first 18 months or so. "

Wilfried ZahaZaha was a regular for England Under-21s before making two senior appearances

Zaha was a Palace player when he made his England debut, but joined Manchester United in a £15m deal before making his second international appearance.

He played only four times for the Red Devils and joined Cardiff on loan before returning to Palace.

"When we had him with the under-21s he was in the middle of a very difficult spell both with Manchester United and then on loan with Cardiff," said Southgate.

"I remember being asked at the time - and we were asked about a few different cases - and I said players have to have the desire to play for England.

"That was slightly tweaked a bit, I would say, so that created a little bit of an atmosphere with Wilf and [Palace chairman] Steve Parish for a while.

"That wasn't an insinuation on Wilf - you couldn't have a more passionate player as anyone who follows Crystal Palace knows."

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