Roy Hodgson insisted last night that "age doesn't bother me" and declared his squad was the third-youngest in the tournament as he defended England's heavy dependence on Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker.
Roy Hodgson admitted last night that the searing heat of Ukraine will have taken its toll on England's players by the time they play the co-hosts on home turf there next Tuesday.
The training session Hodgson led here yesterday in heavy rain and temperatures a full 11C lower than that being experienced in Donetsk, where England may need at least a point next Tuesday, revealed a manager unable to get his weary, injury-hit senior players on a pitch ahead of tomorrow's match with Sweden in Kiev. Though all players except the virus-hit Martin Kelly initially appeared for the cameras, the entire probable first XI for the Sweden match promptly disappeared into the Hutnik Stadium after the media had been cleared. Hodgson was then left to run the session as best he could with the skeleton staff of players at his disposal.
The miserable weather highlighted how far removed from the climate of Kiev – where it is 5C warmer than Krakow, while the venue of England's first game, Donetsk, has been experiencing a heatwave – England now find themselves. Hodgson defended the dependence on Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker by declaring his squad was the third youngest in the tournament. England's squad – average age 26 – is, indeed, third youngest, behind Germany and Poland – average age 25. At 28, Sweden. Russia, Ireland and Italy are the oldest.
"When you come to the third game [against Ukraine] we are going to be careful with all the players, not just Steven and Scott because three games in the Ukraine heat takes it out of everybody," said the manager, who seems likely to stick with Monday's starting XI in Kiev.
"Scott is 31 and Steven 32. We are not talking about old players. Certainly Sweden have players who are considerably older than our team. Age doesn't bother me. We have players in the squad who can step up to the plate if necessary."
Ashley Cole appeared unhappy with something at training, kicking away a drinks bottle, and did not even make the pretence of training when he ran out wearing training shoes. The Chelsea left back suffers from a chronic long-standing ankle problem, which prevents him from training 48 hours after matches.
Andy Carroll and Jermain Defoe, the back-up strikers, paired up ahead of a midfield, right to left, of Theo Walcott, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing, to put a defence of Phil Jones, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines through its paces. The rain did clear slightly, though Hodgson's assistant Gary Neville initially took cover from the torrent in the dugout, shaking his head.
Hodgson also admitted to the BBC that Ukraine's 2-1 win over Sweden was a disappointing result for England because it kept the hosts' qualification hopes looking good before they meet England in Donetsk on Tuesday. "It wasn't the result that we wanted. I suppose the result we wanted was a draw because that keeps things tight, but you don't always get the results you want. We know now that we are going to need to get a result in Ukraine, but we know if we can get a positive result on Friday and beat Sweden it would put more pressure on Ukraine."
Hodgson suggested that a win may be necessary for Ukraine on Tuesday, though not if they beat France tomorrow. "It has really brought the third game in the group into focus for everybody where a different result might have lessened it," he said.
Hodgson admitted England "miss" the spark Wayne Rooney, who has been given a dramatic shaved sides by a barber who set up in Ashley Young's room at the squad hotel. "When we talk about Sweden we talk a lot about [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic and how important he is for them," Hodgson said. "How he can take a game, his individual ability, he is a world class player. We have one of those in our squad and his name is Wayne Rooney. He is a world-class player and no doubt when he gets himself onto the field we will be a much stronger, potent, attacking force than we are when he is not playing. We don't have any injuries or problems."
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