Euro 2012: England manager Hodgson set to start Walcott but Carroll left out
Roy Hodgson was last night considering unleashing Theo Walcott upon Ukraine in England's decisive final Euro 2012 group game tonight after the Arsenal winger was passed fit following an injury scare earlier in the week.
The England manager is eager that he does not rely upon the same starting XI in every game, especially if the team have to play Spain in the quarter-finals this weekend in the energy-sapping temperatures of a Ukrainian summer. The nature of the pressing, defensive style England would be forced to play should they face the defending champions would, Hodgson believes, necessitate some fresh players.
With that in mind he is toying with the idea of tonight resting James Milner, who has started both games against France and Sweden and replacing him with Walcott who came on to such effect in the win over the Swedes. Against Ukraine, Andy Carroll will make way for Wayne Rooney, returning from his two-game suspension tonight, who starts in attack alongside Danny Welbeck.
While Hodgson is not expected to name his team until this morning, the Walcott option is a real possibility. He missed training with a problem in his hamstring and calf on Sunday but took part in the session yesterday before England flew from their base in Krakow to Donetsk. It would be Walcott's first start for England in a tournament game.
The Ukraine manager Oleg Blokhin has his own selection concerns over striker Andrei Shevchenko who he rated as only "50-50" to start tonight's game given his knee problem. Blokhin lost his cool when questioned at length about Shevchenko's fitness last night at a press conference at the Donbass Arena. "I don't look good in front of my players if I talk only about Shevchenko, his career and his private life," he said. "I have 22 other players."
England only need a draw to progress to the quarter-finals as the second-placed team in Group D which would require them to come back to Donetsk for a quarter-final on Saturday. If they win, and France only manage to draw against Sweden, England will finish top of the group. England have to better France's result should the French also beat Sweden in order to finish top of the group. The winners of the group qualify for Sunday's quarter-final in Kiev.
There remains the possibility that places in the group between France and England could be decided by Uefa co-efficient, if the two teams cannot be separated on goal difference and goals scored. England have the superior co-efficient, which is calculated by Uefa on results stretching back over a period of four years. There is even a scenario in which England could qualify even if they lose – providing France lose too.
That was not a scenario on Hodgson's mind last night when he accepted that the 3-2 victory over Sweden had raised expectations among England supporters who had gone into the tournament expecting little from their team.
"You play football, at international level, to try and get people carried away," Hodgson said. "Dreaming is what this is all about. Expectations are what international football is all about.
"We've got to be happy that people believe we can go a bit further than people thought when we started the competition. That's not to say we can fulfil those ambitions. I know the team has belief in itself.
"We're talking about individual cup finals. Things can happen that you can't control. We've seen some very good teams go out of this competition already. We've got a chance, but guarantees do not exist."
Hodgson said that Rooney was aware of his responsibilities coming back into the side.
"It won't just be me making that point: Steve [Gerrard, the captain] and the other players will be keen to remind him that what we require is a good team performance. We want him to make us a better team and help us win the game of football.
"I've been impressed with him in training, talking to some of the young players, and playing a major part. He knows how important the occasion is for himself and for his team-mates."