Hodgson calls on England to show pedigree and win dogfight for finals

 

San Marino

He is the first England manager to have beaten Brazil in 23 years. On Friday night, his team won by the biggest winning margin of any England side for more than 25 years. He has lost just one of his 14 games in charge discounting penalty shoot-outs. Yet on Tuesday night in Podgorica, the mood around Roy Hodgson's England team will be defined for the next seven months.

Beat Montenegro, or even avoid defeat, and England will look like they are set fair to win Group H and proceed to the World Cup finals in Brazil in 2014. But lose and suddenly the perspective changes radically. Montenegro were the team whom England failed to beat twice in qualifying for Euro 2012 under Fabio Capello, and currently lead the group by two points.

As he reflected on his team's progress at the San Marino national stadium in Serravalle, Hodgson was adamant that the reckoning for the campaign will come in October when the team play their final two qualification games.

Of their last four games after Tuesday, three of them, against Moldova, Montenegro and Poland, are at home, with only Ukraine in September away. Yet if England lose to Montenegro they could win every one of those last four and still not finish top of the group.

"We knew them [Montenegro] from the last qualifying campaign," Hodgson said. "Ukraine, we knew them from the Euros and Poland... we always knew this was going to be a bit of a dogfight.

"Only time will tell that [if England cannot lose to Montenegro]. If we lose it and then don't get the points in the next four games then fine, it was the game we couldn't afford to lose. We are not going there to lose, we are going there to win and if Montenegro want the three points they will hopefully at least have to play very well."

After England, Montenegro play Ukraine at home, Poland and England away and then Moldova at home on 15 October. England finish that night with Poland at home.

"As far as I am concerned, I am eyeing the last game in October," Hodgson said. "I think with this group of players and all the quality we have, not only in the team but in the squad, I still think come the end of October we are going to be right up there."

Even so, there is not that much room for manoeuvre. By way of comparison, Germany and Holland are both five points clear at the top of their groups.

In Group F, Capello's Russia are four points clear of second-placed Israel having played one fewer game after their match against Northern Ireland on Friday was snowed off.

England's section is certainly turning into a dogfight, but the scrap will get considerably harder if England do not get three points on Tuesday. When the players train at the City stadium in Podgorica this evening they will find themselves in familiar surroundings, It was here that they conceded a late equaliser in October 2011 after Wayne Rooney was sent off amid a feverish atmosphere. At the end of the game the pitch was invaded in old-school fashion by the locals.

Hodgson has to pick a team that can deal with that pressure again. There should be more than enough experience in this England team, one of the oldest among Europe's big guns, but that has not always been a guarantee against calamity.

The manager is trying to play down the game's significance. He was desperate not to discuss Rooney at all after the San Marino game, such a touchy subject is the player and his club manager Sir Alex Ferguson's relationship with the Football Association.

All that Hodgson would say was that he had jokingly offered Rooney the penalty-taking responsibilities at half-time on Friday but Rooney had insisted on deferring to Frank Lampard as per their previous agreement.

Will Tuesday be Hodgson's biggest test so far as England manager? "The biggest test was quite frankly France in the opening game of the Euros," he said. "After two or three weeks working with the team in the Ukraine in the 35-degree heat, that game was the biggest test that I have faced so far.

"If you are the manager of any team worthy of the name, not least the England team, or a player, the pressure is always on you.

"You are there to be judged and I don't think the pressure necessarily goes up just because the game takes on more importance.

"I don't feel I am under more pressure for the Montenegro game than the San Marino game. I felt under pressure against San Marino. If we had played badly and not got a good result I would have been very sad about it."

At times it seems that even Hodgson, with his 37 years in management, finds it hard to believe the level of scrutiny under which the England team is placed. It would be enough to shock anyone, but it is about to be taken up yet another notch come Tuesday.

Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing