Roy Hodgson has fitness fears over England midfield duo Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard
Manager anxious about midfield pair but wants to keep same line-up to face Sweden
Roy Hodgson has admitted that he is having profound doubts about whether he can continue pressing Scott Parker and Steven Gerrard into service at the heart of his England side, but suggested that he may be forced to do so.
Parker, 31, joined the England squad with an Achilles injury and Gerrard, 32, also now has to manage himself very carefully between games. The Tottenham Hotspur player said that "with not a lot of cover in midfield" he and Gerrard "just have to keep going" in what he is already finding to be "a very intense tournament [with] conditions that are very difficult".
Hodgson, who was anxious to take Parker off when the midfielder initially rejected his attempts to do so against France, said that the Parker/Gerrard fitness issue was "the big question". But he has also provided an indication that his starting XI against Sweden in Kiev's Olympic Stadium on Friday will be the same as the one that drew 1-1 with France. The Independent's columnist Rafael Benitez said that Gerrard's routine between games was vital. "Outside the game he will be doing the right things," Benitez said. "After and before games, the right things."
With Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere all missing, the only back-ups are the untested Jordan Henderson and Phil Jones, who has looked more comfortable in central defence. Hodgson also sees Phil Jagielka as a midfield reserve.
Hodgson yesterday made no secret of the fact that this campaign is predicated on maintaining good progress until Wayne Rooney's return against Ukraine next Tuesday. "Our real ace in the hole, I think, should be Rooney, because he is very fit and he's raring to go," Hodgson said. "If he can play like Wayne Rooney, then we're going to be a bit more difficult to beat, because you can only benefit from having someone of his quality in your team."
There are already signs of division in the Swedish camp, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic understood to be dismayed by the unprofessionalism he perceived in his team-mates after the 2-1 defeat to Ukraine in the Olympic Stadium on Monday.
The Swedes' performance angered the Milan striker less than the fact that he saw some players waving to their wives and girlfriends in the stands in Kiev when they should have been going through a warm-down.
"Ibra feels the pain very much when Sweden don't do well and it was the same old story on Monday night," said a Swedish source. "After the game he thought the players should have had their eyes on the next game against England, rather than saluting their partners in the stands. They had lost the game after all. This is Ibra, though. He is rarely completely happy."
Ibrahimovic is thought to have been particularly unhappy with centre-forward Markus Rosenberg, picked on Monday ahead of his favoured striker partner, Johan Elmander. Ibrahimovic has asked that Elmander, the former Bolton Wanderers striker, be selected to face England.
Hodgson indicated that he does not need to ring the changes for Sweden. "I don't think it will be horses for courses, as such," he said. "We don't need that – horses for courses – where our players are capable of playing against two different styles of football. I will have to, of course, assess the freshness and see whether or not they are able to do that again.
"My gut feeling, if we have a good recovery day [yesterday], a sensible training day on Wednesday and sensible recovery day on Thursday, is that we're going to make it very hard for people to leave them out. I think if we said 'we're going to give you a rest because it's too much to play two games in four days' I think some of them would have us up against the wall!"
There are no plans to replace Hodgson's goalkeeping coach, Ray Clemence, who left here on a 6pm flight yesterday with an England team medic, having snapped an Achilles tendon during Monday evening's warm-up.
France manager Laurent Blanc drew comparisons between England and France as he discussed the 1-1 draw in Donetsk yesterday. "In sport, in football, you can win games this way – over the duration of a tournament, however, you have to show some attacking ambition."
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