Hodgson banishes ghosts of 73 as England face Poland test
England manager says his players have nothing to fear from history ahead of Wembley clash
ROY HODGSON is thinking only about three points ahead of England's crucial game against Poland tonight. Victory for the Three Lions will guarantee them a place in next year's World Cup in Brazil, though anything less could result in them being forced into the play-off lottery.
Ukraine are second in group H, one point behind England, and only a major disaster will stop them collecting three points when they play San Marino this evening. That means it's win or bust for England, although Hodgson knows his side at least have the safety net of the two-legged play-offs should the wheels come off at Wembley, but that's not how he's thinking on the eve of England's biggest match in years.
"I don't think the play-offs will ease any fears over qualification," Hodgson replied, when the question was put to him at a press conference on Monday. "I'm not thinking of the play-offs. This is a game we want to win. I don't think I will be satisfied if we don't win. This is our game, our stadium, our fans, and we're pretty sure we're going to win - that's how we are approaching the game."
Inevitable comparisons have been drawn with tonight's game and the one 40 years ago, when England were held to a 1-1 draw by Poland and failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. But Hodgson's having none of it, batting away comparisons with a profundity not commonly found among England managers. "History is important when it comes to not making political mistakes," he said, "but when it comes to sport, it has no relevance whatsoever.
"Every game's a new game and each Poland team that's played England is different so we're concentrating on our job."
For England captain Steven Gerrard, it's a more recent defeat that haunts him and one which he'll use tonight as motivation. He and Frank Lampard are the only survivors from the 3-2 loss to Croatia in November 2007 that crushed England's hopes of qualifying for 2008 European Championships. "It's a memory I will have to take to the grave with me," admitted the Liverpool defender. "One of the lowest moments of my international journey. One of those memories that just keeps coming back and coming back." Gerrard added that both he and Lampard are "hoping we never have the same again".
According to reports there could be as many 20,000 Polish fans in Wembley this evening, a number that doesn't concern Hodgson. "I presume it will lift Poland but... our players are pretty used to playing in matches where the opponents have a large number of fans," he said. "I think 65-70,000 versus 20,000 is a pretty good margin for us and if our fans get behind us like they've done before I don't fear that."
England is not expected to make many changes to the side that brushed aside Montenegro 4-1 on Friday, though one new face is required with either Phil Jones or Chris Smalling set to replace the suspended Kyle Walker at right-back. There are also doubts over the fitness of Andros Townsend, the Tottenham midfielder who marked his international debut with a goal against Montenegro. "Andros took a slight knock on Friday so we will have to monitor that but we are hopeful he will be okay for Tuesday," said Hodgson. ·