Hodgson sees plenty of cause for optimism

Sat, Jun 23, 2012, 01:00

ENGLAND v ITALY:ROY HODGSON has told his players they have no reason to fear Italy, their opponents in tomorrow’s Euro 2012 quarter-final, and said for the first time that England can rid themselves of one of their “nasty statistics” and think seriously about winning the tournament.

Hodgson and his players will arrive in Ukraine today knowing that England have never beaten a previous World Cup or European Championship winner outside Wembley in the knockout stages of a major tournament.

Their progress to the last eight has already banked the English Football Association £10.1 million. That would be almost doubled if they win the competition, but Hodgson said he was unaware of the financial rewards.

“It would mean a lot more to us, as football people, if we win it. I have no idea what it is worth. It’s the last thing on the players’ minds. But in terms of when we retire from football, in many years hence, it would be nice to see a medal hanging round our necks.”

Hodgson, who plans to start with the same team that beat Ukraine on Tuesday, was noticeably confident about England’s chances, saying they should consider themselves as “at least 50-50” to reach the semi-finals and not be alarmed by anything they have seen so far in the tournament.

“Italy have been stable without actually tearing the tournament up. Spain have had a few scares along the way. They certainly didn’t make life easy for themselves against Croatia and, if they are totally honest, will be thinking it could have gone the other way.

“We’re not underdogs in any way. We have good-quality players who are recognised world wide and, certainly, would get into a lot of the top European teams. I don’t know [the Italy manager] Cesare Prandelli but he is entitled to look at our team and say: ‘This won’t be an easy game.’ Certainly, we go into the game knowing we have good players. We’re aware it’s a tough task but I’d be surprised if any of our players feel inferior.

“It’s been a fairly smooth process for us. Things were up in the air [before the tournament] because our preparation time was so short and we lost four senior players to injury, which added to the negativity. But we’ve put that to one side now and it’s more a positive than negative feeling. The thoughts are all positive now. We believe we’re a good team and we’ll go out and play well. That’s the pure simple thinking.”

Hodgson said there would be no instructions for his players to wind up the Italy striker Mario Balotelli.

“I’m too much the purist coach to go along that line” – and in the possible case of a penalty shootout he made it clear he would not decide his penalty-takers beforehand, in keeping with his policy throughout his career.

“I don’t anticipate the game going to a penalty shootout. I’m an optimist. I anticipate us winning the game in 90 minutes, so why should I concern myself with 120 minutes when we haven’t even kicked the first ball yet? I think it’s a negative thought and I don’t really understand the obsession with it.

“Penalty shootouts are a hazard. I’ve seen [Roberto] Baggio miss penalties, Zico miss penalties, [David] Beckham miss penalties. It’s something we will have to come to terms with if, after 120 minutes, the game is a draw. Up to then, a penalty shootout is the least of my concerns. I’m much more concerned about how we’re going to face Italy, what problems they’re going to cause us and what we have to do to win.”

Reflecting on what it would mean to beat a team of Italy’s tournament history, Hodgson said: “It would give us a bit of an extra glow and put one of those nasty statistics, for a team of England’s stature, to rest.

“These negative statistics can be put to bed only when you get a positive one. I came across it quite a lot in my time at West Bromwich Albion: ‘We’ve never won here in 30 years; we’ve never finished above Aston Villa; we’ve never won at Stoke; we’ve never done this, never done that.’ I got used to it in the end and I was lucky enough to put some of those hoodoos to bed. That’s the only way to do it.”

Italy midfielder Thiago Motta is a doubt after suffering a hamstring strain. The team’s doctor, Enrico Castellacci, said Motta, who started all three group games, is managing to train with the other players and will be assessed today.

Italy have already lost their most experienced defender, Giorgio Chiellini, of Juventus, to injury but Balotelli is expected to be fit after suffering a slight back problem in training.

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