Hodgson puts brave face on England’s elimination

Will Roy loosen the shackles?
Hodgson was never going to be criticised for adopting a pragmatic approach at Euro 2012, having taken over just weeks before the tournament and with Wayne Rooney suspended for the first two matches. But long-term he will find it increasingly difficult to justify such cautious tactics. That may mean casting aside his favoured 4-4-2 formation for a more modern system, perhaps with greater numbers in centre midfield, where England were overrun.

How safe is Gerrard’s place?
Steven Gerrard’s strong performances and eagerness to retain the captaincy would appear to cement his status as a key figure. But while his suitability to wear the armband may be in little doubt, it seems far from certain that he will still be a first-choice starter at the 2014 World Cup, when he will be 34. Should Hodgson stick with 4-4-2, Gerrard can expect to come under huge pressure from Jack Wilshere for the attacking central midfield role. If there is a switch to 4-3-3 or similar, it may be to include another defensive player, meaning Gerrard may have to sit deeper or be left out altogether.

Which senior stars will survive?
John Terry, Ashley Cole, Scott Parker, Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Gerrard are among those nearing their sell-by date, although it would be a risky tactic to discard all at once. Cole looks to have another campaign in him, while Gerrard, Parker and Terry can reasonably argue that their Euro 2012 performances have earned them a show of loyalty. Lampard, at 34, and Barry, along with Rio Ferdinand, may have had their swansong.

ENGLAND manager Roy Hodgson has played down the need for drastic changes to the national set-up, despite Sunday’s Euro 2012 penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy inflicting another premature exit from a major tournament.

Hodgson has backed Steven Gerrard to continue as his captain for the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, even though the Liverpool skipper will be 34 by the time the finals begin in Brazil.

Gerrard admitted yesterday that England “hadn’t been fantastic” with the ball and that statistics illustrating their continued failure to keep possession, notably in the Italy quarter-final, “spoke for themselves”.

But the manager, while conceding his team could have been more threatening going forward, painted a largely upbeat picture and reiterated his belief that England’s players are good enough to play any system.

“I don’t regard possession statistics as particularly important when saying which is a good team and which is a bad team, but if you are saying to me we could have kept the ball better at times I’d have to agree,” he said.

“I think all the players realise that too. That’s an area where we have to keep working and keep improving but I don’t think statistics alone play a big part. We have enough quality to match any style we want, but in this tournament we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare and, although we defended well throughout, we could have attacked better.

“I would like to think there is good reason for optimism. There are some good young players coming through, our Under-21s are doing well and it will be interesting to see how we do in the Olympics. We have to be optimistic and believe. We must qualify for Brazil and then better our previous record.”

Gerrard underlined his pride at England’s commitment and defensive resilience, but could not deny that they left much to be desired as an attacking force.

“At times the football hasn’t been fantastic, we haven’t blown people away,” he said. “The possession stats speak for themselves. Moving forward as a nation we do need to improve with the ball. Everyone has given everything they’ve got and that’s all you can ask for. I think the supporters will agree that we have played for the shirt.”

Gerrard also confirmed his eagerness to extend his stint as captain, having discussed the matter with Hodgson before the squad flew home from Krakow yesterday.

“I’ve had a brief chat with the manager and he has told me he wants me to continue and I’m there, I’m available as long as I’m wanted at this level,” he said. “I have loved the responsibility and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’ve tried my best.”

England face familiar foes in their next few games, with a friendly against Italy in Switzerland next, on 15 August, followed by a World Cup qualifying double-header with Moldova and then Euro 2012 opponents Ukraine in early September.

34 Age Steven Gerrard will be at next World Cup