Analysis: At end of mixed year what are the key issues for England manager Roy Hodgson ahead of the World Cup?
Despite Wembley's boos, England manager's Brazil squad probably only requires tinkering with
Now begins the long winter of contemplation for Roy Hodgson. He watches and he waits, and he waits. Then, as the country starts to thaw in March, he can assemble his last squad before he has to decide on the 23 players he will take to Brazil. The kind of choices that will present themselves then will inevitably be different to those which he has faced in the last two weeks.
At Wembley on Tuesday night, in the aftermath of Germany's victory, Joachim Löw reflected on another splendid year for Die Nationalmannschaft. "We started off by beating France on their own patch and we have ended it by winning at Wembley," he said. Of course, the expectations in Brazil for Löw, who has reached a final and two semi-finals in his last three tournaments, are much higher than for Hodgson but, at that point, they felt a long way apart.
Hodgson was asked if he felt the euphoria that followed qualification had dissipated because of the defeats to Chile and Germany. "That is the risk, I suppose," he said. "That is what defeats do to you. But I think that would be a disappointing attitude, I would rather like to think that what we did in qualifying, especially in the latter qualifying games, still gives us some credit and is a reason for optimism."
Even two months ago, that question would have precipitated a spikier response from Hodgson, who refused to yield an inch to even the highest-profile critics such as Gary Lineker. He would have pointed out in mild disbelief that the point of the exercise was giving chances to new or unproven players –which he has done over the last two games. But he has learnt quickly about the mentality of the England bubble and the Wembley crowd in particular.
"In these two games I deliberately risked and decided against going with what I think is our best XI at the moment," he said. "I decided I want to see players, give them a chance and decided to learn from the two games. I would have loved to have learnt from the two games by going away with a result. Unfortunately, I've had to learn from the defeats."
His England team started the year by beating Brazil at Wembley for the first time since 1990. They ended it with two defeats. Hodgson might well consider that, given he has qualified for the World Cup finals, he was due a bit of slack from those who booed his team off twice this month. But whether it is a lack of patience with the players or him or both, the fans seem unwilling to grant him it. His warning on Tuesday night was that he cannot – he will not – be making sweeping changes.
"I don't expect to be watching games and suddenly find players I have never really thought of before jump out at me and prove to be a lot better [than the existing squad]. We are going to have to work very hard with the ones we have had with us here, add the six or seven who weren't available [this month] and hope that between that 30 or so players we can produce a team that can give a good account of themselves at the World Cup."
Hodgson knows that, injuries aside, his World Cup squad is unlikely to feature many surprises.
It was a good performance from Joe Hart against Germany, and one that he needed. He was not at fault for Per Mertesacker's goal and he made good saves in both halves. Hart is England's best goalkeeper by a distance and Hodgson's faith in him over the past few weeks has been vindicated. The question is how much he will play for Manchester City between now and the friendly against Denmark on 5 March.
Beyond the injured Ben Foster, John Ruddy and Fraser Forster, choice is limited for Hodgson. Jack Butland and Jonathan Bond, the Under-21s goalkeepers, are playing outside the Premier League. Bond has not even featured yet this season for Watford.
Hodgson's faith in Chris Smalling, his non-league discovery when he was Fulham manager, is strong. Nevertheless, he clearly regards Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill as his first-choice centre-backs. There is no prospect of John Terry being invited back into the fold. Smalling and Phil Jones will, fitness permitting, be the reserves in that position. At right-back, Hodgson seems to consider Kyle Walker to be ahead of Glen Johnson and has not revealed his hand yet in terms of who is his first choice between Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines on the left.
Hodgson continues to throw in the names of Kieran Gibbs, a substitute against Germany, and Southampton's teenager Luke Shaw, but the eight defenders for Brazil would appear to be as good as settled unless fitness issues intervene.
Once again, it is hard to see beyond a squad that includes Steven Gerrard, Jack Wilshere, Michael Carrick and Frank Lampard in the central positions. Wilshere's fitness remains a concern. One gets the impression that it would be unlikely for all four to make it to May unscathed, in which case there could be a chance for Ross Barkley or Tom Cleverley but neither are battering the door down. Ravel Morrison is the wildest of wild cards.
The competition on the wing is much more interesting including, as it does, Andros Townsend, Adam Lallana, James Milner and the injured Arsenal players Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – the five most likely to contest the four places. Behind them are Aaron Lennon, a veteran of two World Cup finals; Ashley Young, currently out of favour; and Adam Johnson.
Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and Rickie Lambert: it will require an impressive run of form, or an injury, for anyone to shoulder past those four, and Jermain Defoe, who will miss out if Hodgson does not take five. Lambert's emergence is proof that there is a chance for a striker who hits form, although he has assumed a specific role as a targetman option.
Lambert is vulnerable in that one wonders whether what he offers is dispensable. Peter Crouch was barely used by Fabio Capello at the last World Cup finals. Having taken his place at Euro 2012, Andy Carroll is now injured. Wilfried Zaha is off the radar at Manchester United. If Saido Berahino were in the frame he would have been given a cap by now.
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