Makeshift England not scared of in-form France, insists Hodgson

ENGLAND manager Roy Hodgson insists his embryonic and injury-hit side is not daunted by the challenge of facing a France team unbeaten in their last 21 games in their Euro 2012 opener today.

Hodgson also played down fears that scorching temperatures forecast for this afternoon in Donetsk, Ukraine, would make it even harder to avoid defeat in his first competitive match in charge.

England are missing a host of stars, with striker and star man Wayne Rooney suspended and experienced midfielders Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry, as well as defender Gary Cahill, absent through injury.

“It is a stern challenge,” said Hodgson, whose England outfit is the least hyped at a major tournament in recent memory.

“We are facing a team in excellent form and 21 matches unbeaten at any level is a fine achievement. But when you come to European Championships or World Cups, having good or bad form isn’t the factor that’s decisive.

“It’s how your team plays on the night; how people adjust to the circumstances. They’ll be slightly different here in Donetsk, and it’s about what you can do as a team. We have full respect for the French, but the players are confident in their own ability.”

England’s squad travelled from their base in Krakow, Poland, yesterday to Donetsk, where temperatures were markedly warmer and are expected to soar to 34C by today’s 5pm kick-off.

But Hodgson added: “We’ll deal with the heat as best we can. It does get hot in England from time to time. The heat is a factor for all the teams playing in the Ukraine. It plays a slightly bigger role in the earlier game, but the bottom line is that it’s the same for both teams.”

Former Switzerland boss Hodgson is mulling who to pick on either flank and whether Andy Carroll or Danny Welbeck should partner Ashley Young, but insists whichever team he picks will be his own despite only being parachuted into the role last month.

“Is this my England team? It’s got to be,” he said. “No one expects, after three weeks, someone to have totally stamped his mark on the team. But I’ve worked with Steven Gerrard before, Glen Johnson before. It’s the team I pick, and the team I take responsibility for.”

Gerrard, who worked with Hodgson at Liverpool, will captain the side, and said: “We’re itching to get started. The squad is really happy. The spirit in the camp is fantastic. The preparation has gone really well.”

France coach Laurent Blanc has attempted to play down his side’s fancied status as he prepares for his first major championship in charge, insisting they do not expect to lift the trophy on 2 July.

“The French team don’t have the same ambitions as Spain or Germany at the start of this European Championship,” said the former Manchester United defender.

“France, in terms of their results over the last few years, have not allowed us to retain our place in European or world football. People say we’re favourites in the group, but I don’t agree with that. We are at the same level as the other sides.”

ENGLAND’S OPENING GAMES SINCE 1966
■ 2010 World Cup: drew 1-1 v USA (right)
- Knocked out in last 16

■ 2006 World Cup: won 1-0 v Paraguay
- Knocked out in quarter-finals (penalties v Portugal)

■ Euro 2004: Lost 2-1 v France
- Knocked out in quarter-finals (penalties v Portugal)

■ 2002 World Cup: drew 1-1 v Sweden
- Knocked out in quarter-finals

■ Euro 2000: Lost 3-2 v Portugal
- Knocked out in group stage

■ 1998 World Cup – won 2-0 v Tunisia
- Knocked out on last 16 (penalties vs Argentina)

■ Euro 1996 – drew 1-1 v Switzerland
- Knocked out in semi-finals (penalties vs Germany)

■ Euro 1996: drew 0-0 v Denmark
- Knocked out in group stage

■ 1990 World Cup: drew 1-1 v Republic of Ireland
- Knocked out in semi-finals (penalties v West Germany; lost third place play-off to Italy)

■ Euro 1988: lost 1-0 v Republic of Ireland
- Knocked out in group stage

■ 1986 World Cup: lost 1-0 v Portugal
- Knocked out in quarter-final

■ 1982 World Cup: won 3-1 v France
- Knocked out second round

■ Euro 1980: drew 1-1 v Belgium
- Knocked out in group stages

■ Euro 1972: lost 3-1 v West Germany
- Knocked out in quarter-finals

■ 1970 World Cup: Won 1-0 v Romania
- Knocked out quarter-finals

■ Euro 1968: Won 1-0 v Spain
- Knocked out in semi-finals

■ 1966 World Cup: drew 0-0 v Uruguay
- Winners

Overall record

Won 5, Drawn 7, Lost 5