Hodgson organises quick Italy crammer


IT WAS when Italy were brought up and Roy Hodgson was asked what he made of England’s next opponents that we were reminded of one of the principal reasons why even his colleagues at the Football Association in England are willing to now admit they had scarcely dared to imagine the team being in this position.

The England manager said sorry but he was not really in a position to answer those kind of questions. Not yet anyway, when he had not had time to study the Azzurri in any detail.

How good were this Italy team, he had been asked, and what did he make of their performances so far? But it was futile to pretend. Hodgson held out his hands. “I don’t know,” he replied.

This is the way he has had to operate almost from the start. It had to be this way because, quite simply, he has been busy enough without devoting his time to scouting all the teams who could, at some point, be lining up against England.

On Monday, when Italy defeated the Republic of Ireland 2-0 in Poznan to qualify for the last eight, Hodgson had the other channel on.

“Spain against Croatia,” he explained. “Probably because I was partly thinking that if we were to do well, Spain would be the probable opponent.”

Nobody in the England camp had really anticipated that Sweden, after two successive defeats, would beat a France side unbeaten in 23 matches to spare Hodgson’s team a last-eight tie against the world champions.

“So, for now, I’m afraid I have to back off questions about Italy,” he said.

The crash course comes over the next few days. Andy Scoulding, Liverpool’s head of technical analysis, is among Hodgson’s backroom staff, having previously worked with him at Anfield and, before that, Fulham. Steve O’Brien, the FA’s senior football analyst, is also in Krakow. Their priority before Sunday’s game in Kiev will be to edit and put together detailed footage of Italy’s matches so Hodgson and his players have a dossier on the opposition’s tactics.

Hodgson intends to watch Italy’s group matches – against Spain, Croatia and Ireland, in full. Joe Hart will be given his own DVD of Italy’s penalty-takers, just as Petr Cech studied every spot-kick taken by a Bayern Munich player since 2007, before Chelsea’s shootout victory in the Champions League final in May. It is a near-forensic operation being plotted at the Hotel Stary.

The team had been applauded into the hotel when they arrived back in Krakow, just after 4am yesterday morning, having flown straight back to Poland after the 1-0 defeat of Ukraine that confirmed their place at the top of Group D.

It was a day off training and the atmosphere was one of quiet satisfaction, but there was also a clear shift in mood and a sense, to use the words of Trevor Brooking, that England are entitled now to “get a little greedy”.

England’s golden generation may be down to its last handful of survivors, but they are not going quietly. If Steven Gerrard and John Terry have made up their minds to atone for the excesses and disappointments of the past by setting aside their egos in one final attempt at redemption, they are doing a pretty good job of it.

Throughout England’s three group matches, the two have been the outstanding figures. Others have made an impact – Andy Carroll, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck with their goals, Wayne Rooney with a winner on his return from suspension – but the platform for a hard-fought victory in Group D was laid by Gerrard’s calm leadership and Terry’s unyielding resilience.

The evidence is clear, and not just in the first-round statistics saying only Daniel Agger has made more than Terry’s 13 interceptions and only three other players in the competition – Eugen Polanski of Poland, Alou Diarra of France and Anatoliy Tymoshchuk of Ukraine – have made more tackles than Gerrard’s 13.

Gerrard is also top, level with David Silva and Andrey Arshavin, of the assists table. Although the legitimacy of the very concept of the assist in football is justifiably disputed, there is no doubt he provided the free-kick for the goal scored by Joleon Lescott against France and the crosses for the headers by Carroll against Sweden and Rooney against Ukraine.

Each goal, was the first of the match: the captain finding a way to break the deadlock.