Focus on Brazil as casting is all done

HISTORY-MAKER: Ashley Cole will tonight earn his 100th international cap when England meet Brazil. The left-back will start the game at Wembley Stadium and will be the seventh player to reach the milestone

HISTORY-MAKER: Ashley Cole will tonight earn his 100th international cap when England meet Brazil. The left-back will start the game at Wembley Stadium and will be the seventh player to reach the milestone

First published in Sport

ROY HODGSON has done his casting – now he hopes 2013 will prove to be the year he lands a World Cup berth.

It is nine months and 12 games since Hodgson was appointed the permanent successor to Fabio Capello.

During that time he has run the rule over an incredible 44 players.

Some, such as Joe Hart, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, can be certain of their spots. Others, like Jake Livermore and Stephen Kelly, may never be seen again.

And now he begins the most important year of his career so far, with a friendly against Brazil, knowing Brazil is where he wants to end up.

“I’ve done my casting around,” he said. I am confident now I know the players.

“It’s been important for me to give people the chance to show what they can do, to have a few days working with them and learning about them.

“But I would be very surprised if we’ll use 44 players this year.”

Hodgson recoils at the thought of his career being judged on the six qualifying fixtures, and potentially two play-off matches, that litter the path to South America in 16 months time.

And providing England succeed in their quest, it won’t be as the final analysis will come once the Three Lions reach Brazil.

But if it all goes wrong, as it did for Steve McClaren during the Euro 2008 qualification campaign, Hodgson will be dismissed as a failure, no matter what other achievements he can point to.

“Maybe (it is a big year) but I can’t think in those terms,” he said.

“There have been quite a few years, most of my 38 as a manager, where I’ve thought being a success or failure that particular year will have an effect on the way I’m viewed.

“I was aware of the huge responsibility when I took on the job.

“The only thing I can do is make certain I take my job seriously, do the best I can, and ensure the team is well prepared.

Then I hope I will get the results.”

Such is Hodgson’s misfortune that he inherited a squad that lacks balance.

When fit, he has at least six superb central midfielders, quite a few good right wingers and two superb left-backs.

But he only has one goalkeeper of note, lacks quality in central defence following the retirement of John Terry and annexing of Rio Ferdinand, whilst his forward options are thin. That fact is shown by the decision to plough on with just two recognised front men for tonight’s encounter, following the withdrawals of Daniel Sturridge and Jermain Defoe.

“That’s a work in progress because a lot of those forward players are quite young,” said Hodgson.

“Even Theo Walcott is an old youngster because he’s been around so long and Wayne Rooney is a long way off reaching his 30th year.

“We have some exciting forward players and some exciting potential to work with.

“But of course these players do need to grasp the nettle very quickly because they don’t have three or four years to mature if we’re to reach Brazil.”

And the additional handicap is having to placate worried Premier League bosses, in this instance one in particular given Manchester United’s Champions League trip to Real Madrid next week that will certainly mean Rooney and Danny Welbeck do not play the full 90 minutes.

“It doesn’t matter, just keep them playing,” laughed Gerrard, as Hodgson was about to make a more pertinent point.

“I am aware that, in particular Manchester United are playing an important Champions League game,” said Hodgson. “I haven’t spoken to Sir Alex Ferguson but I don’t need to.

“I was a club manager myself and it’s pretty obvious Alex would like me to look after his players.

“I appreciate the way these top-class managers have made sure we have full access to the players for the qualifying games.

“It’s up to me to keep in mind what’s going on in their heads. This is a friendly, a very important one, and we want to win it.

“But I don’t want to do that at the expense of players missing important games and their managers being reluctant to release them in future.”

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