Roy Hodgson last night urged his critics to back off his depleted England team that will face Brazil at the Maracana Stadium tonight, reminding them that even Barcelona would struggle with a similar scale of injury problems – which now include Danny Welbeck, who is out the friendly.
There will be five outfield players and two goalkeepers on the bench after Welbeck's knee injury failed to clear up. With Daniel Sturridge and Andy Carroll already out and Jermain Defoe not completely fit with an Achilles problem, Hodgson said any side without its lead striker would be diminished.
Facing down pessimism about England's hopes in World Cup qualifying in autumn Hodgson said: "We don't personally feel we are riding the roller coaster from fantastic world beaters to absolutely hopeless but we have to accept that could be a perception. We in ourselves are very much aware of every game and what that game means.
"To some extent you want goalscorers. Let's be fair about it Barcelona are a fantastic team but as soon as Lionel Messi doesn't play they start losing some matches and you can see that around almost every team. Manchester United had a wonderful year but without Robin Van Persie's goals would they have had quite as easy a chance to win the title?
"September is a totally different proposition. I am picking a team at the moment, end of season, with the players available. In September when we go into the qualifiers there might be as many as six or eight very, very interesting, very talented players pushing for a place in the team. I don't really understand how a game at the end of a long season here in Brazil can be a tremendous barometer as to how well you do in September."
The England manager confirmed that Phil Jones will start his first England game since Hodgson's first match in charge against Norway on 26 May last year. There is a suggestion that the Manchester United man could start in a holding midfield role, although he came on for Glen Johnson at right-back at Wembley on Wednesday against the Republic of Ireland.
The big decision for Hodgson is whether he does adapt the 4-4-2 system that he played against Ireland. He could deploy Theo Walcott as a second striker, but other than that he is limited in his options and his mood yesterday seemed disposed to switch to a 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 system.
The England players trained at the Maracana stadium last night, which will be hosting its first match with a full 78,838 capacity since its £370 million refit. Hodgson said that criticism that had been directed at him after the draw with Ireland, particularly Gary Lineker's tweet that tactically the team had regressed to "the Dark Ages" had not affected him.
Hodgson said: "I'm perfectly happy for anyone who wants to come up with criticism, they are quite entitled to it. But I'm more than happy with the way we are playing and moving forward. I'm looking forward to coming back here again next year [for the World Cup finals].
"People back home may realise the situation we find ourselves in as well as we do [Hodgson and Frank Lampard, the captain tonight]. They also know that some of the players we may be counting on playing [in the autumn] are not with us so it is a great opportunity for others.
"I think they are going to be expecting us to give the same level of performance that I think we have given over the past months. Whether that will lead to victories or not you never know, but I certainly confident that whoever plays [against Brazil] will, a) be desperate to show they can do well and, b) know there are shirts up for grabs."
"What better opportunity really for you to shown you can count on me and 'I'm the player you should be looking at' than to go out at the Maracana against Brazil and play well. But the fact is after we played Brazil in February and won at Wembley it seemed everyone was predicting wonderful things and then we go to Montenegro and don't play so well and suddenly we are back again to square one."
Lampard said that the "pressure was getting carried away with itself" after the result against Ireland and there was also a reminder for the Lineker generation that they had problems beating the Irish. England have not beaten them since 1985.
He said: "I watched very good players – Lineker and all [fail to beat Ireland]. Brazil is a game for us to show we can put on a performance in a real showpiece game against one of the big nations and show we want to be back here next year [for the World Cup finals].
"An England team never wants to not qualify for a major tournament, and one of the worst, probably the worst, moment of my career was not qualifying [for Euro 2008]. We know there is work to be done to get there whatever group you go into and it is up to us to do that."
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