WATFORD (AFP) – England manager Roy Hodgson sought to side-step issues about his team’s lack of World Cup pedigree on Thursday as he prepared for two crucial games in their quest to reach the finals in Brazil.
Hodgson’s pre-match press conference ahead of qualifiers against Moldova at Wembley on Friday and Ukraine in Kiev on Tuesday was dominated by a debate sparked by the Football Association’s new chairman Greg Dyke in his first major address since replacing predecessor David Bernstein in July.
Dyke focused on the challenges facing the England team when so many players in the Premier League come from abroad.
It was a point that perhaps seemed especially significant when Hodgson revealed Southampton striker Rickie Lambert, who came off the bench to score on his England debut against Scotland recently but who has only one season of Premier League experience, would replace injured Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge in the starting line-up against Moldova.
But it was Dyke’s comments on the BBC’s Today programme that sparked an even bigger discussion as he assessed England’s chances in Brazil 2014, admitting: “I don’t think anyone realistically thinks we are going to win the World Cup in Brazil.”
Dyke effectively writing off England’s dreams of glory as they prepare for two crucial qualifying matches was always going to leave him open to accusations that his comments would be harmful to morale and unhelpful to the manager.
But Hodgson, whose team are currently second in Group H, did his best to avoid a ‘manager v chairman’ stand-off.
“Look, what bothers me is not whether we are going to win but making certain we give the performances that get us there,” Hodgson said.
“And when we’re there we’ll start setting about trying to win it.
“I don’t know the exact quote from Greg but let’s be honest, I very much doubt if we are top of the bookmakers’ list to win the World Cup anywhere in the world at this moment in time.
“So let’s qualify, then let’s try and get better and then let’s try and win it. I’m sure that’s what he’s thinking too. I’ve had lots of talks with him in private about exactly that.
“I’m pleased Greg has made his speech and has created so much interest. But today the only thing I can do is ask for people’s forbearance that we concentrate on Moldova and Ukraine.”
Hodgson says England need 10 points from their last four matches to be certain of reaching Brazil, but his campaign has not been helped by a string of injuries to key players during the campaign.
Liverpool striker Sturridge, who has started the season so brightly at Anfield, is the latest with a thigh injury that will keep him out of the Moldova game and will also see him miss the trip to Kiev unless he passes a fitness test on Sunday.
Cardiff defender Steven Caulker is also out, although England remain confident they have enough strength in depth to beat Moldova, having already won 5-0 against them away from home.
“I have picked the team and Lambert will start,” Hodgson said. “He deserves a chance.
“I can’t deny had Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge been available, it would have been harder for him to get a starting place but I am more than happy to have a player of his calibre to start this game.”
In fact Hodgson all but named his starting eleven, which will feature Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere together in midfield; and captain Gerrard expects a strong performance regardless of the debate surrounding chairman Dyke’s comments.
“None of the players are talking about what Greg’s said. All the speech has been about the game,” he said.
“We’re after a strong performance; that’s the job we need to do. But it won’t be to prove any individual wrong, it will be to lift the nation and make the fans happy.”