World No 3 but England’s status should fool nobody

IF Roy Hodgson did not realise the size of the task he has taken on as England manager, then Bobby Charlton helpfully put it into stark perspective for him this week.

IF Roy Hodgson did not realise the size of the task he has taken on as England manager, then Bobby Charlton helpfully put it into stark perspective for him this week.

“I feel sorry for the England manager, whoever he is, as he simply doesn’t have enough players to choose from,” said Charlton, as he doubted the chances of England winning big prizes any time soon in the foreword to a new book.

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“Since the European Union and the influx of so many foreign players, there is a definite shortage of English players from which the England manager can select. It has become far more difficult.”

In a nutshell, that sums up Hodgson’s task as he begins World Cup qualification tonight in Group H against Moldova in Chisinau and on Tuesday against Ukraine at Wembley.

No Wayne Rooney, no Ashley Cole, no Ashley Young, all injured. No striker of international renown, plus Andy Carroll also injured and just Jermain Defoe and the inexperienced Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck to choose from.

And certainly no midfielder such as Charlton capable of running a game and providing goals so consistently that the 49 he scored for England between 1958 and 1970 remain the record.

England might be rated third in Fifa’s world rankings, but 
no-one should be fooled. When it comes to mixing it with the elite at major tournaments, that is a false ranking.

They regularly get an A for industry and determination. They are tough to beat. But they score little more than a B or C when it comes to guile and creativity.

Hodgson’s challenge is to guide a path through qualifying in what appears to be one of the easier groups, while also attempting to get England to play in a manner which can trouble the big footballing nations. That means, above all, treasuring possession, forsaking the traditional English trait of squandering the ball and wasting energy, as well as incorporating exciting youngsters such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain into the side.

Against Moldova and Ukraine that really should not be a problem. Moldova are ranked 141st in the world, sandwiched between the “might” of Malta and Kazakhstan, while Ukraine are 39th.

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England’s squad is full of Champions League winners, including five from reigning champions Chelsea.

A word of warning here, though. Moldova’s defence requires prising apart. During the last two qualifying campaigns for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, they conceded only 34 goals from 20 games, with just 14 of those coming at home.

Holland scored only two goals against Moldova over their two qualification matches for Euro 2012, while Moldova also managed to beat Finland 2-0. They might be minnows but they demand respect even if they have won only two of 38 World Cup qualifiers in their history.

It is a match, however, in which England should be able to play with relative freedom and in Defoe and Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott, with Sturridge and Welbeck also to choose from, they should possess more than enough pace and movement to cause Moldova problems.

The key, and here captain Steven Gerrard must set the tone, is keeping the ball and staying patient, as Andrea Pirlo demonstrated at Euro 2012 in the summer when England were outclassed by Italy before 
succumbing in the inevitable penalty shoot-out.