With Ukraine trailing England by just one point with three matches left, Hodgson had been expected to adopt a cautious approach to the game at the Olympic Stadium in Ukraine. But it became clear last night that the 66-year-old senses a very real opportunity to kill off any talk of the England not making the plane to Brazil.
His squad may be depleted by injury and Ukraine may be unbeaten in their last six matches, but Hodgson wants a victory here tonight to put his team three points clear with just two games left. “These are two good teams who are in form and are capable of winning the group so it’s a bit of a cup final and when you play in a cup final you don’t necessarily win games by being cautious,” the former Liverpool boss said, addressing a packed conference hall in the bowels of the Olympic Stadium, where England were knocked out of Euro 2012 last summer.
“Sometimes you win it by going on to the front foot and trying to make certain you score more goals than the opposition so we are aware of those things. We don’t have any qualms about what we have to do and the task in front of us. What we need to do is get a result and the players are confident that they can put on a good performance.”
Hodgson did concede it would be “backs to the wall” if England lost, but that seemed to be just a flickering thought in the otherwise positive ideas that were rushing through his mind. There was even a touch of Kevin Keegan about the current England boss as he questioned the comments of his opposite number, Mykhaylo Fomenko.
Fomenko gave a very dull press conference before Hodgson took to the stage this evening. The only interesting part of the coach’s press conference was when he conceded the crunch game was the biggest of his career. Hodgson took his opposite number to task, responding with: “I understand where he is coming from, but I have to say these emotional statements... I have been in football a long time and I have had a lot of games. If I had a little bit of money for every time I heard an opposition player say this is the game of my life I would be a very rich man, so it doesn’t impress me enormously.”
Unlike Fomenko, who spent his press conference straight-batting questions, Hodgson divulged almost every detail about his team selection. Happy with his team’s performance in their 4-0 defeat of Moldova, Hodgson conceded that he would only make one change to his starting XI because of Danny Welbeck’s suspension. The Manchester United forward scored two good goals against the Moldovans, but a harsh booking for dissent means he will miss tonight’s game. Hodgson also confirmed Frank Lampard will start, thus making him the eighth player to reach the exclusive 100-cap club.
Meanwhile, Kyle Walker has assured Hodgson he intends to stay clear of nitrous oxide in the future. Pictures of the Tottenham defender inhaling the gas were published over the weekend. Although not illegal, there are health risks associated with the substance, which it appears Walker was not aware of.
These have now been pointed out to the 23-year-old, who has assured Hodgson it will not happen again. “Kyle Walker has expressed his regret for an error of judgement when inhaling Nitrous Oxide earlier this year,” said an FA statement. “The FA and England manager have spoken to Kyle about the matter and he has assured us it will not happen again. He will not face any action under the England Player Code of Conduct.”
Walker, the PFA’s Young Player of the Year in 2012, said on his Twitter page: “Now I know the health risks, it was poor judgement on my part. I won’t be doing this again.”