Three Lions skipper Steven Gerrard espoused Roy Hodgson’s gameplan on the eve of their World Cup opener in Manaus as the confidence within the squad continues to grow
By Sam Lee at the Arena da Amazonia
“Of course I think we can win it, I would be very very surprised if you had any coach here on the eve of his first match at the World Cup and he would say, ‘No, no chance’. We’re here to try to win it, to play our best and give a good account of ourselves. We want to go home and feel proud, for the people to feel proud.”
Gone are the days when Roy Hodgson was regarded as an arch pragmatist. The England boss has reinvented himself, and the team to an extent, over the past few months and the Three Lions squad head into the World Cup in attack mode, even if their confidence is not reflected back home.
Poor performances and bitter defeats in years gone by have tempered English expectations to the point where an early exit from a group containing Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica would come as no surprise.
A tough looking assignment which includes a trip to the Amazon jungle does little to lift the mood, nor does the concern of a fully-fit Luis Suarez.
But Hodgson and his captain, Steven Gerrard, were in supremely confident mood on the eve of their first match, against the Azzurri in Manaus, and have left themselves nowhere to hide by promising an attacking outlook.
“All the distances and the miles we have covered, the heat preparation, we have done all that. There are no excuses now. It is time to walk the walk,” Gerrard said.
Hodgson too was keen to play down any obstacles: “We’re not concerned about the heat. We’ll take the conditions that come our way. We’ve prepared for them and aren’t making contingency plans. We’ll play the game we want to play. We’ll keep a close eye on the players. If any of them are flagging late on, we’ll change them.
“We have players who can come on and change the game. We are physically fit, mentally fit and tactically prepared. That’s the most we can ever hope for.”
The message was very much that England are ready. Gerrard espoused Hodgson’s “gameplan” – though the boss resents the phrase – and insists it will be the Three Lions’ intention to take the game to their illustrious opponents.
He said: “Of course we have got respect for Italy, they are a fantastic team with wonderful players. We’re confident and really focused on our gameplan. We can’t wait for kick-off.
“Our plan is not to sit back and camp out on the edge of our box and see what happens. We have a gameplan to go and attack with confidence and belief, but one of Roy Hodgson’s main strengths is having a team that is set up and well-organised and that will never change.
“But it is the players’ responsibility to get the transition right on when to be bold and brave and attack and go for the jugular and when to stick together when times are tough.”
Too often this has appeared a team incapable of combining a solid defensive performance with enterprising attacking play.
Stodgy performances against Peru and Honduras bookmarked a wild affair against Ecuador in the warm-up friendlies, while qualification for the tournament provided plenty of prosaic displays, with two end-to-end ding-dongs sealing a trip to Brazil.
But Hodgson, who brought in psychologist Dr Steve Peters for this World Cup is only interested in looking forward: “History is history and the present in the present, and we all live in the present.
“We all believe we have a great chance of winning the game for two reasons. One because we have a very good team who have a very good understanding of what we have to do. Two because we are well prepared, we are looking very fit. The only matters tomorrow night are the quality of the Italy team and we will try to match them and better them.”
Even if they do not quite match Brazil’s bristling bravado, there are few teams in more confident mood than England. It’s almost time to see how far that will take them.