LONDON. — Roy Hodgson indulged in a little tub-thumping last week, declaring that England would “sweat blood” to qualify for next summer’s World Cup soccer finals in Brazil, but there were no guarantees they would be there. None at all. “Guarantees,” Hodgson said, “I’m afraid, don’t exist. How can anyone who is even half-honest, and with a modicum of integrity, stand up and be quoted that I will assure the fans that we will do this, that and the other.
“I can assure the fans that we are absolutely dedicated and determined to qualify. We will leave no stone unturned, the players will sweat blood if necessary to get there but we are talking about sport and football.”
England are not in the territory of rhetoric, of which there has been too much over the years, but results.
Qualification is in the balance and with it Hodgson’s future: it is highly unlikely the Football Association would persist with the manager if England do not book their passage to Brazil.
Hodgson sounded a little more bullish before England’s friendly in Rio de Janeiro in June — when he spoke of his squad returning to the city 12 months later — than he was at Wembley last week as he announced his squad for Wednesday’s friendly against Scotland.
His team sit second in Group H — behind Montenegro and just ahead of Ukraine — with four ties to play, including the daunting prospect of travelling to Kiev in just under a month’s time.
They may need four victories to secure automatic qualification and avoid having to navigate a play-off route and that, for a team who have made themselves hard to beat without ever becoming serial winners, does not appear a given, even if three of those matches are at home.
Although England are, traditionally, strong at the beginning of a season, there are yet more concerns. Too many key players — Wayne Rooney, Jack Wilshere, Frank Lampard — have had either no or a limited pre-season. In Rooney’s case, there are further questions over the striker’s state of mind given his desperation to leave Manchester United.
Hodgson’s 25-man selection is the strongest he could choose and the only concession to experimentation was the inclusion of 31-year-old Southampton striker Rickie Lambert, simply because there was nobody else.
“This squad is selected purely and simply with a view to preparing us for the important games we have coming up in the autumn,” Hodgson said. “I’ve tried to get as many of the players who have been a major part of our work so far and who hopefully will be a major part of our work in the future together even if there a few of them in there who are at varying stages of fitness.”
Facing Scotland could be an unwelcome distraction given what is ahead but Hodgson’s spin was positive.
“It’s not going to be an ‘after you, Claude’ type of game,” he said.
“But on the other hand do we need that? Do I need players who, when putting on the England shirt, are aware that nothing is going to be easy. We have three very important (World Cup qualification) home games and a very important away game and our intention is to win them all. But if we think there is going to be an easy one among that four then we would be fooling ourselves. Perhaps it’s just as well that we are getting a reminder that any match played here at Wembley against any opponent is going to be very tough.”
There were claims from within the FA that Hodgson was furious at the scheduling of the Premier League matches ahead of England’s vital qualifiers.
“Not only am I not furious about it, I am totally accepting the situation. I don’t expect the Premier League to tailor their fixtures around the national team,” Hodgson said.
“I fully expect the Premier League to chose their fixtures as they want to and I fully expect Sky, who pay a lot of money, to pick out the fixtures they want to play.” — The Telegraph.
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