England can test France - Hodgson
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
Manchester City winger James Milner (7) is expected to start in midfield in England’s European Football Championship opening game against France on June 11.England manager Roy Hodgson has insisted he will be able to field a competitive side in their Euro 2012 opener against France despite an injury crisis and a fresh storm over Rio Ferdinand’s exclusion.
Hodgson has seen three key players ruled out of the squad in the past week, with Gary Cahill becoming the latest to be sidelined on June 3 following the withdrawals of Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry.
Cahill’s injury has also refocused attention on Hodgson’s controversial decision to omit Ferdinand from his original squad, with Liverpool rookie Martin Kelly called up to replace Cahill instead of the Manchester United star.
Kelly’s inclusion prompted a furious response from Ferdinand’s agent, who accused Hodgson and the FA of a lack of respect towards the player.
Terry faces criminal charges of racially abusing Ferdinand’s younger brother Anton during a Premier League game last year, accusations he denies.
England has been patchy in recording consecutive 1-0 friendly wins over Norway and Belgium, while France heads into next week’s opener in Donetsk on the back of what is likely to be a 21-game unbeaten run after facing Estonia in its final friendly today.
Nevertheless Hodgson is adamant he has seen progress in England’s performances to suggest they can cause France problems.
“Whether we can beat France I don’t know because when you have gone 21 games unbeaten you obviously have something,” he said.
“We can’t suggest we are in that position, not least because of our key figures, Wayne Rooney can’t play in the first two games, and others have left us through injury.
“I don’t think we will go into the game as favorites but I am happier that we are moving towards a team that can not only give them a game but, if we have a bit of luck on our side, perhaps win.”
Although Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started against Belgium, many observers expect Hodgson will favor Stewart Downing and James Milner against France.
Hodgson however has bristled at suggestions that England is seeking to ape the sort of defensive gameplan which brought Chelsea success in the Champions League.
“If you are suggesting I have gone in with some major principle about being hard to beat, that is not the case at all,” said Hodgson. “We talk to the players about both aspects of the game.”