World Cup: Roy Hodgson Faces Defining Match as England Manager

Ian RodgersWorld Football Staff WriterMarch 25, 2013

Roy Hodgson is facing a defining match in his tenure as England manager.
Roy Hodgson is facing a defining match in his tenure as England manager.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Roy Hodgson might have claimed that the Euro 2012 Finals opening match against France was the biggest test of his role (via Daily Telegraph), but the England manager is fooling nobody.

Hodgson had only been in charge of the national team for a matter of weeks when he lead the country's hopes in Poland and Ukraine and was effectively given a free pass for the tournament.

England, arguably, produced their best performance of the Euro 2012 Finals in the 1-1 draw with the French in the heat of Donetsk, but now Hodgson is 10 months into the job and it is his team selection and tactics which will govern the 2014 World Cup Qualifier against Montenegro on Tuesday evening.

England were knocked out of Euro 2012 by an impressive Italy side which went on to reach the final against Spain, but there was no criticism of the manager.

Hodgson's team have not staggered in Group H, although draws against Ukraine at Wembley and in Poland were not in keeping with the script laid out during Fabio Capello's reign when England were rarely troubled in qualification.

The current England boss has referred to the current WCQ campaign as "a dogfight", a description which could have been even worse if Frank Lampard had not converted an 87th-minute penalty to earn a 1-1 draw against Ukraine at Wembley in September. But the knives are not out for Hodgson. Yet.

The 8-0 demolition of San Marino was impressive enough in that England did their jobs well and stuck to their task despite the obvious temptation to let focus wander as the goals kept pouring in.

Wayne Rooney was a focal point for England on Friday and his excellent free-kick and assist for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to score the second of the night were confidence boosters for the Manchester United striker.

Much will depend on the former Everton striker keeping a level head against Montenegro after losing his cool and his place in the opening two matches of Euro 2012 with his dismissal on his last visit to Podgorica in October 2011.

Jermain Defoe, Ashley Young, Lampard and Daniel Sturridge were also on the score sheet for England against San Marino as they built momentum for the more awkward proposition in Podgorica.

Nobody was under any illusion, though. It was a perfunctory win over a dysfunctional team.

The Sun has described the match against Montenegro as Hodgson's "personal Waterloo", but whether it rates in that category at the moment is open to debate.

One thing is for certain, though. Defeat in Podgorica will see England fall five points behind the table-topping Montenegrins with just four matches in the group remaining, and the pressure will begin to weigh heavily on Hodgson.

Should Ukraine win, as they surely will, against Moldova in Odessa tomorrow night, they will be three points behind England with a game in hand. Perhaps we were wrong in dismissing The Sun description of the game in Montenegro too quickly?

But there appears to be no underlying ill-feeling toward Hodgson at the moment, which should keep the England manager on a relatively even keel if things should go horribly wrong for his team.

Don't expect to see Hodgson take any chances in Podgorica. Rooney will spearhead the attack alongside Defoe, while Danny Welbeck will usurp Oxlade-Chamberlain and Young on the left to help out Ashley Cole, who is expected to return in place of Leighton Baines, in defensive duties.

With Baines so impressive against San Marino and with Everton, this is the chance for Cole to persuade the watching world that he remains England's best choice at left-back and a good performance is expected.

Tom Cleverley is the ideal man to sit behind Rooney with Steven Gerrard and Michael Carrick making up an experienced central midfield with James Milner perhaps the best option on the right to offset the foraging runs of Glen Johnson.

Manchester City defender Joleon Lescott and Chris Smalling of Manchester United should be the makeshift central defence in front of Joe Hart.

It may not be his Waterloo, but this will be the sternest examination of Hodgson in battle and represents a defining moment for the former Inter Milan and Liverpool manager.

Hodgson's fate will not be sealed by defeat, but a significant proportion of the previous goodwill towards the England boss will be summarily wiped away with the shadows of Graham Taylor and Steve McClaren hovering ominously.