EURO 2016: Hodgson happy to avoid ‘familiar faces’
England coach Roy Hodgson welcomed Saturday’s draw for Euro 2016 made in Paris that threw up three unfamiliar opponents for the much-travelled Three Lions boss.
England, who have twice reached the semi-finals of the European Championship in 1968 and 1996, were placed in Group B alongside Russia, Slovakia and fellow home nation Wales.
“Despite having coached over 100 matches at this level with three teams (Finland, Switzerland and England), I have never come up against Russia, Slovakia or Wales,” said Hodgson.
“I’m looking forward to having new acquaintances. I’m quite happy not to be coming up against the same faces which has happened to me in qualifications.
“We hope we can do better, definitely than we did in 2014 (at the World Cup),” he added, referring to England’s dismal group-stage exit when they finished with just a single point from three matches.
Undoubtedly, the group’s standout fixture is England’s June 16 clash with tournament debutants Wales in the northern French city of Lens.
“We understand the hype but we’re just as excited about playing Russia and Slovakia,” said Hodgson.
“(It was) half-expected to draw a home nation with three of the six teams in pot four.”
Wales coach Chris Coleman had previously admitted he would prefer not to be placed in the same group as England, citing fears that a “Battle of Britain” could act as a distraction, but remained confident his players would rise to the challenge.
“It was more to do with the hype surrounding the game. There are three games to play and we can’t get caught up with just playing England,” Coleman explained.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment and whatever group we were in, and I’m not being flippant, I think we can beat any team on our day.”
Wales, whose only previous major tournament appearance came at the 1958 World Cup, face Slovakia in their opening match before locking horns with England, marking the 112th meeting between the two countries.
“It suits both teams not to play each other first up. It’ll be nice to get a bit of time on the pitch before the England game,” said Coleman.
“It’ll be two British teams going at it and it will be an exciting game. I just hope there’s no fear.”
– Russian opener –
Before that England will begin their finals campaign against Russia on June 11, with Hodgson full of praise for his Russian counterpart.
“(Leonid) Slutsky has done extremely well since taking over and has got them winning again. It’ll be a great atmosphere in Marseille,” said Hodgson, before downplaying concerns over disappointing England performances at recent major tournaments.
“The past is the past and if the players continue to perform like they have over the past 18 months… our form is quite good and there are good players coming through.
“(However), our tournament experience is not quite so good.
“Whatever we say or do, once the referee’s whistle goes it’ll come down to what those 22 players can do out on the pitch.”
Hodgson added that Slovakia, who England will meet in their final group game on June 20 in Saint-Etienne, could not afford to be underestimated either, especially after a “fantastic qualifying and spectacular opening” with victories over defending European champions Spain and Ukraine setting the tone for a successful campaign.
He also suggested being a top seed wasn’t overly beneficial, saying: “There’s no advantage being in pot one other than avoiding teams like Spain and Germany.”
However, Slutsky singled out the English as the team to beat in what he labelled as a fairly balanced group.
“It’s a very interesting group with the two other teams. England are the favourites, but any of the teams have a chance of going through.
“We’re certainly looking forward to playing England,” Slutsky added, before admitting he didn’t know too much about the Welsh side.
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