ROY Hodgson will block out the negative noise surrounding his squad and instead focus his efforts on the huge task of trying to beat Brazil with just 16 fit outfield players.
Gary Lineker and Rio Ferdinand have reignited the debate around the strength of the English game over the last few days.
Lineker suggested England had returned to “the dark ages” by employing a flat-looking 4-4-2 formation in the lacklustre 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday while Ferdinand called for an overhaul of youth coaching after claiming the national side had not played consistently well for ten years.
The timing of the attacks on the squad could hardly have been less ideal given that they face five-times world champions Brazil at the Maracana tonight, but Hodgson remains supremely confident about his squad’s abilities.
The England manager conceded that his team’s finishing is not quite up to scratch, but he insists the performance against Ireland was nowhere near as bad as has been suggested, and he has also been encouraged by performances like the one in February when England beat Brazil 2-1 at Wembley.
“We thought the performance [against Ireland] was quite a good one, but it was badly received by the experts who thought we actually played badly,” Hodgson said.
“But you have to be careful as a coach. At the end of the day if you listen to too many people telling you you are playing well or badly you won’t know what on earth you are doing. I know myself if the team is playing well or badly and so do the team.
“During the European Championship we were averaging 200 passes per game and on Wednesday it was 500. I think the team are 100 per cent with myself and the coaching staff and we are going in the direction we are trying to take the team. Things are statistically improving all the time.”
Despite his optimism, Hodgson does have his concerns ahead of tonight’s game. Brazil may no longer be as good as they were when the likes of Pele, Zico and Garrincha graced the hallowed turf of the Maracana, but their squad is undeniably better than the one that Hodgson has brought to South America.
Andy Carroll, Tom Cleverley, Kyle Walker and Daniel Sturridge had all dropped out of the squad before England touched down in Rio and now it has emerged that Danny Welbeck will not be fit enough to take part in the game because of a knee injury.
That leaves Hodgson with just 16 outfield players for a game that will be played in 30-degree heat.
“I wouldn’t have minded [having] one or two more players here,” Hodgson added. “We will have to be well organised defensively. We can’t just open up and play Samba football. They are definitely better than us at that.
“We are going to pick a team that will be competitive and hope we can deal with the weather conditions –which aren’t favourable at all. We will have to hope we can deal with the conditions and hope that we have enough strength from the bench. I feat the players might run out of legs in this heat.”
Of the current crop of players available to Brazil, Neymar represents probably the greatest threat to England.
The Santos forward, who joins Barcelona tomorrow, had a poor game when England beat the Selecao three months ago but Frank Lampard, who will skipper the away side tonight, expects the 21-year-old to put on a much better display this time around.
“It was a tough game for him at Wembley because it was pre-season for the Brazil team and he was not at full fitness,” the Chelsea midfielder said. “We have all watched clips of him on Youtube though and we have seen what he can do. I speak to David Luiz and Oscar about him a lot and he is going to be a star.”