Roy Hodgson’s team selection gamble against Slovakia has left England facing a daunting set of potential knockout-stage opponents – with Germany, Italy, France and Spain all in the same side of the draw.
Hodgson is adamant that he has “no regrets” about making six changes for the Slovakia stalemate, but the Football Association is understood to be unsettled by the ramifications of failure to win Group B.
Not only did it cost England the chance to play one of the third-placed finishers in the first knockout round, it also left them facing potential quarter-finals and semi-finals against tournament favourites.
First, on Monday 27 June in Nice, England will face the second-placed team from Group F in the last 16, which will be decided on Wednesday – one of Hungary, Iceland, Austria or Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
If England progress, they are then likely to face a quarter-final against France in Paris on Sunday 3 July. The hosts play their last-16 game against Northern Ireland, Turkey or the third-placed team in Group E in Lyon on Sunday 26 June.
The reward for beating France would then be a semi-final back in Marseille on Thursday 7 July – most likely to be against the world champions Germany, the holders Spain, or Italy.
Had England won Group B, they would now be facing the route to the final that awaits Wales. In the last 16 Chris Coleman’s side will face Northern Ireland, Albania or Turkey,on the way to a possible quarter-final against Belgium and a semi-final against Croatia.
The Slovakia gamble left senior figures within the FA questioning whether Hodgson made a serious error of judgment. Greg Dyke, the FA’s chairman, has said England may have to reach the semi-finals if the manager is to continue through to the 2018 World Cup.
Hodgson, though, insisted he was relaxed about the challenges to come. “We will take whichever route we are given,” he said.
“We don’t know if it will be a harder road or not because you never know which opponents are tough and which are not. I am not always convinced the opponents you get as a third-placed team are necessarily easier than a second-placed team. Let’s wait to see the Fifa rankings of the team we get.”
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