Hodgson sizes up the front line as he revels in Rooney's renaissance
Issued on: Modified:
England manager Roy Hodgson woke up with a huge headache on Friday. Who will lead the attack in the final Group B match against Slovakia in St Etienne on 20 June?
Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling played in the 1-1 opening day draw against Russia in Marseille on 11 June and they were given the striking duties in the second game on Thursday in Lens against Wales.
But with England trailing 1-0 at half-time to a Gareth Bale free-kick, they were both withdrawn.
In their place came Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge. Within 11 minutes of the restart Vardy had poached the equaliser and in second half-stoppage time Sturridge slid in the winner.
Kudos to Hodgson for the change or criticism for failing to pick the right combination from the outset?
The 68-year-old, whose tenure as England manager was hanging by a thread at the pause, evaded the line of enquiry with the same kind of dexterity shown by Sturridge to clinch the encounter.
“Substitutions are going to play a major part in this tournament,” said Hodgson. “The games come thick and fast. Each team has 23 players and in those 23 players there’ll be a lot of players who, when they’re not selected will feel hard done by and feel that maybe that they should have been selected. I think substitutions will be a feature of the tournament.”
Hodgson underscored his analysis by highlighting France’s Group A match on Wednesday night in Marseilles. Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba emerged from the bench to undo an obdurate Albania rearguard. Griezmann scored in the 89th minute and Dimitri Payet added the second in stoppage time to send France into the last 16.
England are not yet into the knockout phase of Euro 2016 but will advance with a draw against Slovakia.
While his forward options furrow his brow, Hodgson’s midfield choices have been simplified: Wayne Rooney and others.
The 30-year-old Manchester United captain was under immense scrutiny in the prelude to the tournament. First, injury had robbed him of playing time with Manchester United. And after his return, he no longer commanded a place up front. The emergence of 18-year-old Marcus Rashford and the sleek skills of 20-year-old France international Anthony Martial had forced the veteran to drop deeper in search of a starting place. Fortunately for the England captain, the then United boss Louis van Gaal, endorsed the shift. And England fans should tip their hat to van Gaal. Rashford is also in the England squad.
But to many pundits, Rooney's move into midfield was the beginning of the fade. The dying of what was once a mighty attacking presence was being stage managed albeit with dignity.
But in two games at Euro 2016, Rooney has forced a rethink. He was running the show against Russia. He was withdrawn from the midfield with England leading 1-0. Arsenal’s Jack Wilshire replaced him with 11 minutes to go and the team conceded in stoppage time. Substitutions Mr Hodgson?
Against Wales, Rooney was magisterial. Compact control under pressure, wily short passes or 30 metre cross field balls to the wings; the gamut was on display. Who else in the team could perform in this manner and at this level?
“I am happy with the composure Wayne brings to the team and I’m happy with his calmness when at times it gets a bit frantic when you are chasing an equaliser or winner,” said Hodgson.
"And having survived some doubts about him in the build-up to the event and the selection of my squad, I’m so pleased for him that he has showed everybody that he is still a very, very good player and that he is having an influence on the team even if it’s not him who is scoring the goals.”
Well, that’s one issue resolved. Now for some forward thinking.
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe