England may have just beaten the world champions, but Roy Hodgson is refusing to get carried away with his side’s chances heading toward this summer’s European Championship. Trailing 2-0 to Germany in Berlin on Saturday, England mounted a thrilling fight back in the final 30 minutes to claim a 3-2 win over their long-time rivals. The reaction in the English media has been predictably euphoric, raising expectations of a young squad in France. Hodgson, though, was far more guarded in his assessment of England’s prospects ahead of Tuesday’s friendly with the Netherlands at Wembley.
“It's the impossible question, isn't it?” he said. “Whatever I say, I am going to make headlines. If I say ‘yeah, I think we can win it’, then ‘Hodgson says we can win the Euros.’ If I say ‘I think that’s going to be a tough ask, I think with this young team it’s too much to ask’ then ‘Hodgson has got no confidence in the team.’”
“They haven’t yet done it in a tournament. We still don’t really know quite how they’re going to perform in tournament conditions against these much more experienced teams. Germany have already got experience of winning tournament and reaching semi-finals, and France are the home nation, so the question still remains an impossible one to answer. I can only be boring and cliché-ridden in saying that I believe in the team. Absolutely.”
As well as dealing with heightened expectations, Hodgson has also faced difficult questions about the status of his injured captain. England’s record goalscorer Wayne Rooney is due to return from a knee injury in time for Euro 2016, but the performance of the forwards in his absence against Germany has not for the first time called into doubt whether he should still have a place in the team.
After fine goals from Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy against Germany, Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge will get his chance against the Dutch in what will be his first start for England in 18 months. There will be other changes to the lineup, too. Goalkeeper Jack Butland fractured his ankle against Germany and has since confirmed he will be forced to miss Euro 2016.
The same painful reality is true for the whole of the Netherlands squad. After a dismal campaign, the semifinalists from the 2014 World Cup failed to qualify for the Championship, despite its expanded format. And there was further disappointment last Friday in Amsterdam.
On an emotional night following the death of Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, the Netherlands managed to come back from 2-0 deficit to Euro 2016 hosts France before conceding a late goal to go down to defeat. And head coach Danny Blind has suggested that England are currently further ahead in their progression than his side.
“[England] have big players with big clubs,” he said. “They used to have a lot of foreign players at the clubs. Now it appears they have more home-based English players in their league so they can build a good national team.
“That is in contrast to us, we are now rebuilding our team with extremely young players. Holland have had good results against England but they appear to play more modern, less predictable football now.”
Prediction: It is startling to hear the coach of the Netherlands suggest that England are now at a higher level, but it is a reflection of the current struggles in Dutch soccer. While they should still have qualified for Euro 2016, this is far from a vintage crop of players. The pattern of Tuesday’s game, though, where the result is far from the most important element, will depend heavily on what lineup Hodgson fields. If England can replicate the verve they showed against Germany then they could grab another morale-boosting win.
Predicted score: England 2-1 Netherlands
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1