ROY Hodgson said he expected to be tossing and turning in his bed last night as he agonises over the possibility of failing to win the biggest match of his career.
England may have beaten Montenegro convincingly on Friday, but that will count for nothing if they drop points against Poland at Wembley tonight. A win will guarantee England automatic qualification to the World Cup in Brazil, but, with second-placed Ukraine expected to beat San Marino, anything less and they will be condemned to a tricky play-off that could see them pitted against France.
Hodgson exuded an air of calm confidence when he addressed the media alongside Steven Gerrard at the team’s plush five-star hotel yesterday afternoon, but he confessed to an inner worry about what could go wrong.
“It won’t be my best night’s sleep because at the moment all of my waking thoughts are around England versus Poland,” Hodgson said. “I am a worrier. I still feel the tension and focus. It’s not that you are worried the team is not capable, it’s just that you are worried something untoward might happen.”
Hodgson has every reason to believe his men are capable of delivering the result that the nation desires and expects.
After a slightly nervy first-half, England blew Montenegro away on Friday, with Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and star debutant Andros Townsend all excelling. Hodgson is therefore confident that history will not repeat itself 40 years after Poland denied England a place at the World Cup with a draw at Wembley thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski.
“I have great faith and trust in the players,” Hodgson said. “I don’t think I can be putting a stronger bunch of players, a more confident bunch of players, onto the field. I won’t be particularly satisfied if we don’t win and know that we go in to the play-offs. The attitude will be one of; this is our game, our stadium, these are our fans, we are a good team and we are going to win – I am pretty sure that is how they will approach it.”
Unlike in previous matches, Hodgson has almost a full squad to choose from, but there is a slight doubt over Townsend even though he took part in training yesterday morning.
“Andros took a knock against Montenegro so we will still monitor that, but we are very hopeful that he will be able to play,” Hodgson added. Hodgson said he would not make “massive changes” to his starting XI, but he will be compelled to make one alteration because of Kyle Walker’s suspension. Hodgson was already shorn of first-choice Glen Johnson through injury so he will be forced to deploy either Phil Jones or Chris Smalling at full-back instead.
“To lose two right-backs is a serious blow,” Hodgson said. “There are not too many countries in the world that can produce three players of the same quality to play in the same position. We are no different. The loss of Walker is a blow, not least of all because of his understanding with Andros. Luckily there are other players who can go in and do a very good job.
“I can only hope they will develop a good enough understanding on the night to make certain we have the same threat down the right wing as we did on Friday.”
Poland do not need to win – they are out of the running for the World Cup – but they do possess dangermen like Borussia Dortmund pair Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski.