World Cup Qualifying: It's Not Time to Judge Hodgson & England...Yet
Samuel—who appeared in the paper more than usual this week because of the serialisation of Harry Redknapp's autobiography, which he ghost wrote—said that it did not matter who replaced him, but the reader could probably take an educated guess at his choice.
It also wasn't really clear why this was an opinion to be stretched out for longer than a few sentences. England may have an overinflated view of themselves in the world game, but reaching international tournaments is a fairly basic requirement. Graham Taylor went after failing to reach the 1994 World Cup, Steve McClaren went after failing to reach the 2008 European Championships and Hodgson will go if England fail to reach the 2014 World Cup. Fairly simple and uncontroversial.
In any case, why is this even a discussion now? Why even bother to write that Hodgson must go if he fails before he's even failed. Cynics might state that Samuel didn't want Hodgson in the first place and that writing about this impending failure in the same week that Redknapp's book came out was just another way to express his impotent disgust. It's not even as if those who would like to see the back of Hodgson would have to wait long, should he fail.
In any case, this premature doom-mongering with regards to England is just that. In this qualification campaign, England have been, shall we say, less than good, but they're still undefeated and sit at the top of their qualification group. They have two home games that they could probably do with winning but actually don't absolutely need to in order to qualify. And they probably will win them both.
This is, of course, one to bookmark and laugh at if England manage to make a mess of their final two games, but on Friday they face a Montenegro side shorn of striker Mirko Vucinic, centre-back Marko Basa and goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic. Vukasin Poleksic, a man who has played just three times in three years after being suspended in a match-fixing scandal, will be between the sticks. Their other main star, Stevan Jovetic, will also be rusty, having played just 169 minutes over three appearances for Manchester City this season.
Then on Tuesday it's Poland, whose only away victory of the campaign came against San Marino, and who somehow contrived to draw with Moldova in June.
While the old cliché about there being no easy games in international football is simply not true, these two games will be tough for England. But in all likelihood, they will win them both and qualify for Brazil 2014. Then will be the time to judge Hodgson and his team, not qualifying, which is a grind, a means to an end, not the end itself.
“I do believe in the team, believe in ourselves and everything we're doing,” Hodgson was quoted in The Guardian as saying. “I have every confidence in them. I think it can be a very good few days ahead, and that's what I'm anticipating."
In all likelihood, Hodgson is right. So don't judge him until those few days are over.
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