Hodgson facing tough decisions due to injuries, form


Roy Hodgson will have learned nothing new from England’s 2-2 draw with Ecuador in Miami on Wednesday, but quite a lot of his opinions will have been underlined as he prepares for Saturday’s final World Cup warmup against Honduras in Florida.

Hodgson and everybody realize backup goalkeeper Ben Foster, who made a rare appearance against the South Americans, will only see World Cup action if Joe Hart is unavailable. He is a trustworthy understudy, but Hodgson has more pressing problems than his goalkeeper as Brazil 2014 approaches.

The England manager knows James Milner is a reliable midfielder, more useful when a defensive strategy is needed. The experiment of using the Manchester City player at right-back was worthwhile, but it will be a one-off.

The vulnerability of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones at the center of defense would hardly have surprised Hodgson, and while Luke Shaw was caught out for Ecuador’s opening goal, the left-back was impressive going forward but at 18 unsurprisingly has much to learn.

If Hodgson wondered about Jack Wilshere’s fitness, he knows now the Arsenal midfielder is not ready to play Italy after starting only three games for Arsenal since March because of a foot injury.

Frank Lampard is within touching distance of his 36th birthday, but will be delighted to simply be part of his last World Cup squad, passing on his experience to the younger players.

Everyone agreed that Ross Barkley was England’s man of the match after a mature performance full of driving runs from midfield, energy and unselfish layoffs. Everyone, that is, except Hodgson.

“He lost the ball an awful lot of times — if he’s going to be the player we want him to be, he has to make better decisions of when he turns with the ball,” said the manager of the Everton player whose pass completion rate was 91 percent. “That’s not a criticism, but there were other performances out there who merited your ‘obsession’ more than Ross Barkley’s.”

One wonders what a Hodgson criticism of Barkley would be, but despite public support it seems unlikely he will start in the opener against Italy.

A whisker behind Barkley in the ratings was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, a winger or central midfielder with raw pace that would trouble any defense.

Playing his first game for six weeks after a groin strain, the Ox sustained a knee ligament injury that may end his World Cup before it starts if the scan confirms a tear. With Theo Walcott and Andros Townsend also injured it would be the third right-sided raider England has lost.

Rickie Lambert celebrated joining Liverpool from Southampton with his third international goal in five matches. Daniel Sturridge will lead the attack, but Lambert has done enough to be a capable and dangerous impact substitute.

Raheem Sterling did his chances of a starting berth no good by being sent off for a reckless challenge on Antonio Valencia 15 minutes after coming on. Those critics who called the decision harsh have been brainwashed by the leniency of domestic referees and are then surprised when, at European and international level, tackles that are permitted in the Premier League are deemed red card offenses.

Which leaves Wayne Rooney, who seems to have split the country this week. His critics say he should be dropped, he is past his best and Sturridge must be the main striker.

Seventeen goals and 10 assists for a poor Manchester United side suggests Rooney still produces the goods. True, he has not scored in eight appearances at the World Cup finals, but he has scored 39 goals in 90 internationals and 16 in 22 World Cup qualifiers.

He has been England’s most consistent goal scorer over the past eight years and Italy would be delighted if his critics had their way.

Hodgson is likely to start the Honduras game with Rooney playing just behind Sturridge in what should be something like the team to play Italy which will probably be: Hart, Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines, Gerrard, Henderson, Lallana, Rooney, Welbeck, Sturridge.

* * *

SWISS LAW finally caught up with the rest of the civilized world last year and made bribery a criminal offense.

Until 2013 the authorities only investigated bribery if it involved government officials or distorted market competition. The new legislation includes bribes paid during the selection of major sporting events such as the World Cup, but bungs paid before the calamitous selection of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup were not considered illegal.

Whatever pedantic legislation world football’s ruling body may hide behind, the evidence of serious wrongdoing has reached epidemic proportions.

However, Michael Garcia, the FIFA’s head of ethics investigating the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids is not considering the damning emails and financial disclosures published by the Sunday Times last weekend which alleged the Qatari former FIFA vice-president Mohamed bin Hammam authorized $5 million to not only help his country’s World Cup cause, but to further his chances of becoming president.

Even by FIFA’s murky standards, Qatargate stinks, yet the smart (legal) money would still be on nothing happening with Garcia unable to find proof of any wrongdoing.

FIFA is football’s equivalent of North Korea and even the vote for the World Cup hosts is a secret ballot, so nobody knows who on the exco voted for which country.

FIFA is the Untouchables, almost a one-man fiefdom run by Kim-jong Blatter, whose re-election as FIFA president is as big a foregone conclusion as the recent North Korea elections.

Under Blatter’s presidency there have been countless tales of corruption, backhanders, vote-rigging, members of the all-powerful exco have been banned for selling votes, exco members have also effectively been let off for selling tickets on the black market . . . you name anything dodgy and it has almost certainly happened while Blatter has been in charge.

Blatter, the Houdini of football, has been able to dodge every accusing bullet fired at him. Once anyone leaves FIFA they are no longer accountable, so the scandal surrounding those discredited effectively disappears. In no other industry would the man in charge survive so many accusations, allegations and in some cases proof of wrongdoing, but Teflon Blatter rides every storm and comes back for more.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.

  • Sittingburns

    Jones and Smalling were only vulnerable because the central midfield were providing no protection whatsoever. Hodgson has made a right pigs ear of selection and picking injured players to boot.