Roy Hodgson calls for calm ahead of France match but seems to be unsure what England are capable of at Euro 2012

Manager takes first step into the unknown in his side's opener against France tonight

Donetsk

His hands fell behind his back as he stood in the punishing afternoon heat of a stadium corridor, so the really significant clue was obscured. Roy Hodgson's fingernails are bitten to the raw and while his latest articulate discussion of what lies ahead will offer belief to all those who hope that this time will be different for England, he still can't be entirely sure if these players will deliver for him.

Click here to see the 'France v England: All you need to know' graphic

It was no coincidence that both Hodgson and his captain, who shed his tracksuit as they talked in temperatures which will reach 32C tonight, used the same word to plead for a sense of perspective if things don't go to plan against France. The manager said one of his parting messages to his players would be "Don't get suicidal if for some reason things don't work out for you", and Steven Gerrard also observed that "If we lose the game it's not suicide" – though he also cautioned against euphoria if the game goes for England. Hodgson recently picked up a translation of the novella Chess Story – the story of one man's fight against mental disintegration by the Austrian Stefan Zweig. It might prove to have been excellent reading for the road ahead.

The terrain is certainly not as formidable as for those England managers who have gone before him. It was only Hodgson's 40th night at the England helm last night and the briefness of his tenure allows him to escape the consequences of tournament failure which have faced down his predecessors. It is significant that twice in the course of the past 48 hours, Hodgson has held out the prospect of himself sitting down some time soon and mapping a route out of another tournament calamity, if things go wrong. The point being that it won't have been his fault. On Saturday, to the momentary horror of FA officials who sensed the headlines, Hodgson said he just hoped his players had not been "conning" him into a sense of optimism all along, with their enthusiastic work. When it was put to him last night that he could not be sure all the vibrant training he has seen in his players won't come to nothing on the field, he replied: "Of course, I have to agree with that. Training is training, matches are matches..."

But Hodgson is also wise enough to know that national pride is at stake and the nation expects of him. He was just wrapping up his televised press conference last night when a French journalist piped up from the back to say that, "We are always afraid of the English but the English don't do so well. So the question is, is England a great football nation or not?"

"How far do you want to go back?" the manager replied, offering up England's invention of the game in support of his argument – though happily not borrowing from FA vice-chairman Sir Dave Richards' recent interpretation that the rest of the world else had stolen it from us. "We're all very much aware that we've not won anything since 1966," Hodgson added. "You didn't need to remind me of that. We have a chance, as one of the 16 teams here, to show how good a team we are."

It was a "facetious" question, he reflected later, but it revealed the perennial expectation. "As a top nation we haven't won as many tournaments as we should have done," he said. "Before the very good French period (1998 World Cup winners and 2000 European champions) we could have levelled a similar accusation against them. Of course we feel the weight of history. We all feel that weight."

England will also feel the heat. The French have had five days in the searing Ukrainian heat which Joleon Lescott wasn't so impressed by after England had flown in over the slagheaps. "This heat is a joke," he tweeted. To the journalist who put it to him on Saturday that the French would be wearing jackets packed with eight pockets of ice at half-time, Hodgson replied: "Well, you've got me there. 1-0 to you!" The France team doctor says the jackets look like bulletproof vests.

"Yeah, it's hot, but it's hot for both teams," Gerrard said and while there have been times when England have wilted in hot environments – 2002, Brazil in Shizuoka springs to mind – they do not always. The French were dispatched in the Bilbao heat in 1982, Tunisia in a sweltering Marseilles 16 years later and Paraguay in Frankfurt six years ago.

Gerrard's most important observation was that England are drawing inspiration from wearing the label of the weakest side from the nation's shores in generations and it was evident that the French journalist's taunt was not lost on him. "We have under-performed and not delivered in previous tournaments," he said. "I can take that, but for me it is a motivation and one tournament very soon it will click and it will come in and we will get that bit of luck and we will prove an awful lot of people wrong – not just in this country but around the world. Like that [French] fellow who was sitting in the back."

A little sense of perspective should be applied, before we get too carried away with this sense of overwhelming French superiority and their 21-game unbeaten run which is so often quoted. The centre-forward Karim Benzema must be watched like a hawk, but their central defence is immobile. Gaël Clichy and Patrice Evra have just concluded moderate and poor Premier League seasons respectively.

"We can't say right now that the French team are among the favourites for the Euros but at least we know that they're not the bunch of dunces we thought they were a few months ago," is the conclusion of France Football's Patrick Dessault. The lesson of the tournament for England so far is that Denmark's excellent performance against the Netherlands proves what a defensive, counter-attacking performance can deliver – and Laurent Blanc's side are nothing like the Dutch.

Hodgson insisted he would sleep well last night. "The fact is you can't do anything about the past," he said. "Whatever's happened to you in the past, whether it's good or bad, it's gone. But what you can affect is the future. And we've got to get our minds fixed on the future. We've got to make certain that if we're successful we don't let that go to our heads and that if we're unsuccessful that we don't start digging graves for ourselves." Perhaps he might draw, too, on the resolution of Zweig's story – the protagonist of which maintains mental equilibrium through discovering a book of chess moves which he drills, again and again, becoming so good that he defeats a grand master.

Suggested Topics
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week