After a convincing 5-0 win, a manager, usually quite rightly, escapes any criticism. Yet England’s comfortable win over Moldova raised a few more questions than it answered about Roy Hodgson, largely regarding his team selection.
Does Hodgson genuinely see Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard - who will be 34 and 36 respectively in 2014 - as part of his 2014 World Cup plans? If he doesn’t, then why play them in qualifying games, especially games against minnows that England are expected to beat comfortably? If they are part of the manager’s plans for Brazil, then we may question what England have learned from failures at recent major tournaments. Why would a team with the same backbone – John Terry and Wayne Rooney included – fare any differently this time around?
Hodgson appears to have already fallen into the trap of previous England managers: promise - if not verbally then certainly with actions - change and revolution, then slip back into the mould of previous regimes and ultimately suffer the same fate.
England should, and probably will, cruise to top spot in Group H and qualify for Brazil 2014. On the back of a promising qualification campaign they’ll go to South America full of confidence and optimism. Then, with the core of the same team that has failed in the latter stages of past major tournaments, they’ll be found wanting. Another not-so-glorious failure.
In the short-term, however, everything looks rosy in the English garden. The win over Moldova has set the tone and the Three Lions can now cement their position as qualification favourites by beating their main rivals at Wembley this Tuesday night. Odds of 1.35 are being offered about the home win; although short, there can be little argument made for backing either the draw at 4.50 or a Ukraine win at 9.00 as an alternative in the Match Odds.
Unusually for an international manager so fresh in his job, Hodgson goes into this game with the benefit of a recent meeting. England emerged victorious when the two teams met in the group stage of Euro 2012, as Wayne Rooney’s second-half strike was enough to separate the sides. A repeat 1-0 win for England can be backed at odds of 5.50.
In fact, the two teams should know each other fairly well by now, having also been drawn in the same 2010 World Cup qualification group. England won the home game 2-1 with Ukraine gaining revenge courtesy of a 1-0 win in Dnipro in that campaign.
This time around, however, Ukraine will be without the considerable force of striker Andriy Shevchenko who retired from football following Euro 2012. Goalscoring responsibilities now rest upon the shoulders of Marko Devych and Roman Zozulya, who can be backed at odds of 15.00 and 16.00 respectively to break the deadlock.
Without Wayne Rooney, England looked to Jermain Defoe in last Friday’s game, and the Tottenham striker duly obliged, scoring a fortunate third for his country. He is the 5.00 favourite to open the scoring at Wembley this Tuesday. But, as with Friday’s game, it may pay to look further down the list of potential goalscorers.
Lampard is always a good bet at odds of 6.75. He remains on penalty duty but is also a particular threat with England’s style of play under Hodgson. The emphasis is on getting the ball wide and cutting it back into the box, ideal for the marauding midfielder to meet in his stride. Likewise, Tom Cleverley is worth a punt at odds of 10.50.
The immediate future looks bright for England. Hodsgon’s organised and disciplined side should have no problems in topping a relatively weak group and qualifying for Brazil 2014. But it’s when they get there, and start playing against better teams, that I fear their weaknesses will be exposed. I hope I am proved wrong, but even at this embryonic stage of proceedings another quarter-final defeat beckons for the Three Lions.
England 1-0 Ukraine
Consider backing under 2.5 goals at 1.85. The Ukraine will be better in defence than Moldova, while Roy Hodgson's is still lacking his best player in attack.