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For new England soccer coach Roy Hodgson, the team’s unsuccessful past is less important than the possibility of winning its first major trophy since the 1966 World Cup.
Hodgson, who took over at the start of last month, will oversee England’s first match in this year’s European Championship today against two-time winner France.
The 64-year-old is trying to end supporters’ frustrations with U.K. public expectations at their lowest since captain Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup in London 45 years ago. England was knocked out of the 2010 World Cup by Germany in the second round, and failed to make the last European Championship. In the 2006 World Cup, England lost a penalty shoot out to Portugal in the quarterfinals.
Hodgson told reporters on the eve of the Group D match that he’s not wasting the little time given him to prepare a team for the 16-team tournament by dwelling on previous failures.
“Whatever’s happened to you in the past, whether it’s good or bad, it’s gone,” Hodgson, who was hired May 1 from Premier League team West Bromwich Albion, told reporters yesterday at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk, Ukraine. “We’ve got to get our minds fixed on the future. We’ve got to make certain that if we’re successful we don’t let that go to our heads and that if we’re unsuccessful that we don’t start digging graves for ourselves.”
England starts the tournament in Ukraine and Poland with problems set in motion with the sudden resignation of coach Fabio Capello in February. The Italian quit following a disagreement with the Football Association’s decision to strip the captain’s role from John Terry because the defender is accused of racially abusing the brother of former England captain Rio Ferdinand.
Hodgson kept Terry in the squad, and didn’t add Ferdinand, whose played more than 80 times for his country, even after injuries to several defenders left him short.
The coach will have to prepare to play the first two games without suspended main striker Wayne Rooney and has suffered a spate of injury withdrawals including experienced midfielders Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry.
France manager Laurent Blanc, who won world and European titles for his country, says the F.A.’s delay naming Hodgson as Capello’s successor hampers the new coach’s chances of making a mark on his team.
“It’s difficult to put ideas across to your players - you don’t have a lot of time to work with them, and he’s had far less than me,” said Blanc, appointed to lead Les Blues following a poor World Cup in South Africa two years ago.
The team failed to make it out of the group stages, and will be remembered for a player mutiny that involved the squad sitting in a bus and refusing to train.
France has recovered. Blanc cut some veterans and replaced them with younger players including 24-year-old Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema and Rennes’ 21-year-old midfielder Yann M’Villa. The team is unbeaten in 21 matches and is the favorite to win the group, which also includes Sweden and Ukraine. Blanc said he doesn’t think his team can rival champion Spain and record three-time winner Germany.
“The French team don’t have the same ambitions as Spain or Germany at the start of these European Championships,” Blanc said. “France, in terms of their results over the last few years, have not allowed us to retain our place in European or world football.”
For survivors of England’s past failures, the championships may be the last chance to save their international careers and have a shot at making the squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“I may have some decisions to make,” Hodgson said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Tariq Panja at the Donbass Arena in Ukraine via the London newsroom on firstname.lastname@example.org;
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at at email@example.com