Roy Hodgson has claimed his team selection did not constitute a risk as England passed up the chance to win Group B and the manager insisted his side had dominated all three fixtures in the section and would “make someone pay”.
The goalless draw against Slovakia left England second and facing a tie against one of Hungary, Iceland, Portugal or Austria in the last 16, with the identity of next Monday’s opponents in Nice to become clear on Wednesday. Hodgson’s side, sporting six changes from the win over the group winners, Wales, monopolised possession and had 28 shots – with five on target – but could find no way beyond Matus Kozacik.
“You can’t do more than dominate as we did,” the manager said. “When did England last come to a tournament and have three such dominant games in a row? It is a little bit embarrassing: it has been attack versus defence in all three games and I never thought I’d see England dominate three games like we have done.
“We have taken the game to the opposition, we have controlled the play. Sooner or later we will get the reward for our play. Someone might find themselves on the end of a tough result. Soon we will make someone pay; we will score goals one day.”
Asked whether the six changes, including the decision to rest the captain, Wayne Rooney, had constituted a gamble, Hodgson said: “I suppose I have to turn the question round. What would necessarily have changed? Had Wayne started, would he have scored the goals the others missed from his left half position? Wayne and Dele Alli and Harry Kane came on and we still did not take the chances. It’s certainly very disappointing to have all the play again and all the opportunities and not have been able to take one. That’s frustrating.
“But the ‘six changes’ [debate] amuses me. We finished the game against Wales with Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge up front and people said that was positive. And now it suddenly becomes ‘six changes’ with those two starting. It was four changes from the side which finished the Wales game. If we’d won, this game people would have said we didn’t miss those we’d left out, and when we don’t they say the team selection is wrong.
“Look, it’s a frustrating night. I’m very surprised that, in a tournament of this nature, we can be the dominant team in each game. We will be criticised for not taking chances, I can’t deny [the validity of] that. But I think the time will come when we will take those goal chances, and some team will be on the end of that fairly soon. But we’ll wait and see. We’re in the knockout phase, which is where we wanted to be.. Now we have not only to pass the ball reasonably well and control the game, but score goals as well.”
Although England’s opponents in Nice may not necessarily be the most daunting, they are potentially now in line to meet the hosts, France, in the quarter-finals. Joe Hart suggested post-match that “nobody will want to play us”, with those words duly echoed by his manager. “I’m not frightened of anyone,” Hodgson said. “I’m happy to play anyone. It would have been nice to finish top of the group because the three performances we’ve given have merited that, but we haven’t. Now we play the second team in Group F, a tough game, but the way we’re playing, whoever plays us will be looking at a tough game on their hands.
“We’re not doomed yet. We’re not doomed to penalties [in a knockout tie]. We’re not doomed to ‘not take’ our chances. I believe we will if the team continues to play with the intensity and domination we’ve shown in these three games. We’re capable of winning a game in normal time. And, while I don’t count my chickens, if we do end up playing France, it’ll be interesting. I don’t think they’ll play the same way as Russia, Wales and Slovakia. They’ll be asking questions of us when they get the ball and we might be able to show we are quite a good counter-attacking team when teams try and play against us.”
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