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We cannot outplay elite teams, Southgate warns

As England fly to Euro 2012 today, FA technical director says being hard to beat is the best the team can hope for

Roy Hodgson's England squad will fly to their Euro 2012 base camp in Poland today with a warning from one of the Football Association's most senior figures that the nation has to be realistic about the potential of a team that is not able to "outplay" other elite European teams.

Gareth Southgate, the FA's head of elite development and soon to be appointed the organisation's technical director, said that Hodgson's team would have to stick to their strength, which was that they were difficult to beat. He called for supporters to be patient with a squad that has already been hit by injuries.

The England team fly from Luton to Krakow at 2pm, having reconvened at their hotel in Hertfordshire yesterday for a final training session on home soil. Southgate, above, believes the team, without Wayne Rooney, suspended for the first two games against France and Sweden, will be "built around being solid and difficult to beat in the first game".

He said: "I don't think we are in a situation where we can go out there and outplay too many teams. We rarely out-possess other countries, so we've got to think logically about how we set up and the best way to get results.

"That's not negative. How did we beat Spain [under Fabio Capello in November]? How did Chelsea get through against Barcelona? In certain games you have to accept the opposition might get more of the ball, so that tends to dictate what you do with your selection. While you want to win the first game in the tournament, if you lose it you have a mountain to climb."

Southgate also challenged young players to make "the right sort of career moves". He said Adam Johnson, who played under him at Middlesbrough, was a prime example of a promising young English player who had moved to a big club, Manchester City, and seen his first-team chances limited. "Now's there's a decision for Adam because at Middlesbrough he was playing every week. He's got to try to force his way into the first team there. He's got to think about that."

The former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson defended Hodgson over his decision to call up Martin Kelly instead of Rio Ferdinand for the injured Gary Cahill, insisting it had nothing to do with an alleged rift between the Manchester United defender and John Terry.

"I know there is no truth in these claims," he wrote in his column for the Swedish newspaper Expressen. "How? You're just going to have to trust me."