By Simon Evans
MOSCOW (Reuters) - England manager Gareth Southgate has backed midfielder Fabian Delph's decision to go home before Tuesday's round of 16 World Cup clash with Colombia to be with his wife who is due to give birth.
Manchester City midfielder Delph returned to England directly after playing the full 90 minutes of their 1-0 loss to Belgium in Kaliningrad with his wife Natalie due to give birth on Saturday.
But on Monday he was still in England, reducing his chances of returning in time for the game.
"The thought process is that some things in life are more important than football," said Southgate when asked at a news conference about allowing the player to head home.
"His wife is due to go into labour – I have said all along to the players that this is a big tournament but family is more important," added the England manager, who said Delph has been a key part of the squad.
"I think it is very important, at times like this, that players who are family-orientated are supported by us. He has been exceptional, we have been so fortunate to have a squad of players whose character and spirit have formed an incredible bond while we have been away and he has been fundamental to that. I can't speak highly enough of his character around the group," he said.
Delph would probably have been on the bench against Colombia with a potential role to add some defensive steel to the midfield later in the game.
Southgate said there was still a chance he could be back for the match at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow.
"He might be with us, he is buying his wife curries and all sorts of things to try to aid the speed of the process but for me, again, it is a bit of perspective in life because everybody says you only get one chance to be in a World Cup but also there is only one day in your life when your children are born," he said.
The England manager accepted, however, that such an approach would have been considered unusual in the past.
"My father's generation and those before them would view that differently but you have got to be there for your family, I think, and that is very important."
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Neil Robinson)