Given the expanded format for Euro 2016, a defeat in Switzerland would be far from fatal for England’s qualifying hopes. It could, however, have rather more serious ramifications for coach Roy Hodgson. After the disappointment of taking just a single point from three World Cup group matches and then failing to inspire confidence in a 1-0 friendly win against Norway last week in front of a less than half full Wembley, England begins its attempts to make it to France in two years’ time in Basel on Monday. Hodgson was given full support by the English Football Association after the early return home from Brazil and he emerged largely unscathed from the inquest by the notoriously tough English press. Even he now accepts, though, that the mood is turning, although he insists the respect of his players is all that matters.
“I've never sought popularity," he said, reports ESPN. “Popularity doesn't really mean much to me. I have never been interested with being popular with players. I want to be respected by them with the job I can do as a professional. That's all that bothers me. There may have been a slight swing in popularity after the World Cup, I'd have been surprised had there not been. I will have to live with external ideas and thoughts and accept them. The real support and popularity is with the group of players I work with.”
Hodgson will be denied the chance to work with Daniel Sturridge for the match in Basel, with the Liverpool striker having picked up a thigh injury. There is also a major doubt over his club teammate Jordan Henderson, who suffered an ankle problem in training.
With the top two teams from a group also including Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino qualifying automatically and the third going through into a playoff, a defeat in what on paper is England’s toughest match would still leave them with plenty of room for error. But Hodgson will be eager for a positive result and performance against a country with which he achieved some of his greatest success as a manager -- leading Switzerland to the last 16 of the 1994 World Cup.
Switzerland repeated that result in Brazil before being knocked out by an extra-time Argentina goal. Since then Ottmar Hitzfeld has stepped aside as coach, being replaced by Vladimir Petković. The former Lazio manager will be hoping for a strong performance at St. Jakob-Park from Switzerland’s undoubted star man, Xherdan Shaqiri. The Bayern Munich attacking midfielder, who has claimed in the buildup to the match that he was the target of a failed bid from Liverpool in the summer, scored a hat-trick in the World Cup group game against Honduras. Switzerland can also call upon other exciting young talent like striker Josip Drmić, midfielder Granit Xhaka and left-back Ricardo Rodríguez.
Prediction: It would be hard to dispute right now that Switzerland look like a better team than England. There is some fine attacking talent, led by Shaqiri, while Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami offer real tenacity in the center of midfield. England, meanwhile, lack a natural holding player in the middle and their defense is unconvincing. Still, Hodgson showed himself to be adept at securing away draws in qualifying for the last World Cup and he may be able to just pull off a similar result in Basel, albeit with an uninspiring performance that is unlikely to silence his critics.
Switzerland 1-1 England
Kickoff time: 2.45 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1