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John Stones makes England training return in major boost for Euro 2024 opener against Serbia

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John Stones has handed England boss Gareth Southgate a major boost by returning to training ahead of Sunday’s Euro 2024 opener against Serbia.Stones’ readiness for that Group C fixture has been a major question mark over the last fortnight.The defender picked up an ankle injury in last week’s friendly defeat by Iceland at Wembley, but appeared to be back on track when rejoining training in Germany on Tuesday, only to then sit out Wednesday’s session because of illness.However, the Manchester City centre-back was back on the field in Blankenhain on Thursday morning as all 26 members of Southgate’s squad trained.Stones is in particular need of practice having played sparingly for City towards the back end of the domestic campaign.The centre-back started just one of the champions’ final 10 Premier League matches and then skipped England’s warm-up friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina at St James’ Park having been given an extended break following the FA Cup final defeat by Manchester United.Regardless of those concerns, though, Stones appears certain to start as the senior centre-back against Serbia in Gelsenkirchen this weekend, with Marc Guehi, Ezri Konsa and Lewis Dunk the contenders to partner him.Fitness boost: John Stones returned to England training in Blankenhain on Thursday (REUTERS)Meanwhile, Football Association (FA) chief executive Mark Bullingham insists there is a succession plan in place for life after Southgate, but confirmed there have been no approaches from clubs over the Three Lions boss.Southgate’s current England contract expires in December and while the manager has repeatedly said that he will delay talks over his future until after the tournament, he admitted in an interview with Bild earlier this week that he will likely walk away if England fail to lift the trophy.The 53-year-old has been persistently linked with Manchester United and while Erik ten Hag has now been backed to keep his job into the new season, co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his INEOS team are known to view Southgate as a future Old Trafford boss.“There have been no approaches,” said Bullingham, who also confirmed that the FA have not spoken to any candidates about the potential of replacing Southgate.“Any organisation really has a succession plan in place for their top employees, and we are no different to that.“This succession plan normally includes everything from what you do for short-term cover, through to a process you follow to candidates. We have that for top employees.“Gareth has been really, really clear that he wants to talk about [his future] after the tournament. I don’t want to provide any distraction for him and the team.”

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