2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™

14 June - 15 July

Hodgson focused on finding right blend

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A quarter-final exit at a major championship followed by an acceptable, but not perfect, beginning to a qualifying campaign might encourage a feeling of déjà vu among England fans.

Seeking to avoid the biennial raising and subsequent dashing of hopes with the "Golden Generation", though, Roy Hodgson has sprinkled his Three Lions with youthful verve as the journey to Brazil 2014 begins.

Appointed just six weeks before UEFA EURO 2012 kicked off and with limited time to prepare, Hodgson entrusted experienced internationals such as Ashley Cole, captain Steven Gerrard and John Terry to guide the younger players in his squad at the continental tournament, using a strategy designed to make England defensively sound and difficult to overcome.

More attacking spirit was necessary once FIFA World Cup™ qualifying started, however, and Hodgson has therefore invested his faith in the latest line of talents to emerge from English football.

Arsenal starlet Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was taken to Poland and Ukraine and lined up against both Moldova and Ukraine, as did Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley, fresh from Olympic duty with Great Britain.

We are not totally reliant on the old guard. We do have young players coming through who can step up to the plate.

The evolution will, of course, take time, and Hodgson had to thank a particular veteran after each of England’s Group H encounters. Frank Lampard, who first pulled on an England jersey in 1999, claimed the first two goals as Moldova were thrashed 5-0 in Chisinau on Friday, and, more crucially, converted a late penalty to salvage a 1-1 draw against Ukraine at Wembley.

Having trailed Oleg Blokhin’s team for more than half the match on Tuesday, following a world-class finish by Yevhen Konoplyanka, the Three Lions were handed evidence that passage to Brazil will not be straightforward.

A return trip to Ukraine and two fixtures with Montenegro, a team England could only draw with twice in EURO 2012 qualification, plus a double-header against Poland represents a tough challenge.

Reacting to the draw with Ukraine, Hodgson said: "We did a miss a lot of players but the ones who came in, particularly the three youngsters at the end, acquitted themselves well and it is good for us in the future. We are not totally reliant on the old guard. We do have young players coming through who can step up to the plate. [Danny] Welbeck, [Daniel] Sturridge and [Ryan] Bertrand made an impact."

Hodgson proved himself in the Premier League with a functional, effective style which initially saved Fulham from relegation and later pushed them to a UEFA Europa League final. His methods were equally effective at West Bromwich Albion, although a short-lived spell in between at Liverpool was a disaster, and the 65-year-old is well aware that England fans expect both success and enjoyment.

Old habits must be overcome
Achieving those things is not easy at the best of times, even less so for a team undoubtedly in transition. Maintaining possession and allowing the ball to do much of the work has long been a struggle for England, a flaw so brutally laid bare by Germany at the Round of 16 stage in South Africa, when a tired, ageing Three Lions XI were spliced by the raw pace and energy of their old foes.

Fabio Capello was watching from the dugout that day in Bloemfontein. The Italian, too, had overseen a smooth qualification campaign which saw England top a group containing Croatia and Ukraine with nine victories in ten matches. Capello allowed his team to fall back into previous habits, however, and they looked a long way behind the cream of world football.

But having recently risen to third in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and beaten EURO 2012 finalists Italy in an August friendly, Hodgson and the fans will be buoyed by the stamina being shown among the old-stagers and the enthusiasm of the next generation. If the manager can find the perfect blend, England will be confident of reaching a fifth consecutive FIFA World Cup.

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