England manager Roy Hodgson remains optimistic over World Cup qualification chances despite Ukraine draw


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The Independent Online

Roy Hodgson is refusing to look on the bleak side following last night's draw with Ukraine because he believes England are capable of getting results anywhere.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion England's hopes of automatic World Cup qualification suffered a setback at Wembley.

Points dropped in the first home game cannot be regarded as a good thing when the key Group H trips to Poland, Montenegro and Ukraine are still to come.

Yet, in the performance of a team lacking 12 players through injury, Hodgson has found plenty of reasons for optimism.

And he believes that once Wayne Rooney, Jack Wilshere, Ashley Cole, John Terry and some of the other walking wounded are fighting fit again, England will be a force again.

"Sometimes you think every time you drop points at home, it is crucial," he said.

"But the team I'm working with here are capable of getting results anywhere in the world if they can play the type of football we are capable of.

"We've come away with a result and don't forget the Ukraine have still got to beat us over there."

It was a task that proved beyond Ukraine during Euro 2012, when they were beaten by a Rooney goal in Donetsk.

However, as Hodgson kept saying last night, Ukraine were as unlucky on that occasion as he felt England would have been at Wembley had Frank Lampard not converted that late penalty.

In any case, he is not isolating Oleg Blokhin's team as the only danger.

Like England, Montenegro and Poland have recorded comfortable wins against lesser opposition and drawn with a formidable one, in this case each other, and also have four points.

In reaching Euro 2012, England failed to win either of their two games with Montenegro, whilst next month's visit to Warsaw is the key fixture in a double-header that starts with a home game against minnows San Marino.

"We are not underestimating Montenegro or Poland," said Hodgson.

"I would be rather surprised if people had made the judgement that it was going to be an easy group. All these groups are going to be tough.

"Montenegro, as we saw against England last time out, are capable of doing well and Poland, as we know from experiences in the past, can upset us."

Hodgson has bristled before when it was suggested he was given an easy ride at the European Championships because expectations had sunk so low following the departure of Fabio Capello.

Yet there is no underestimating the importance of the fixtures he is now playing.

This is his team, however badly affected by injuries it is.

That may go some way to explaining his reaction as Frank Lampard strode up to take his 87th-minute penalty.

"It was one of the first times in my career I was tempted to look away," said Hodgson.

"I forced myself to watch. I was so anxious that he scored."

Had Lampard failed, Hodgson might have endured the baiting that became such a feature of Steve McClaren's reign.

That would be wholly unfair on a man who is reshaping a team in which most of the key components are either beyond their 30th birthdays or presently injured.

In such circumstances, others need to step up.

Friday's win in Moldova brought the best out of Tom Cleverley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Last night, with Cleverley having a shocker and Oxlade-Chamberlain unusually muted, Hodgson turned to Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Ryan Bertrand.

And how delighted was the England coach with the response.

"We were a goal down to a very experienced and talented team who know how to keep the ball and play on the counter-attack," said Hodgson.

"We replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cleverley with Sturridge, Welbeck and Bertrand.

"You could argue they aren't the type of players who are going to make a big difference. Yet that's exactly what they did.

"It is nice for me to know these five players have come through this unscathed."