• World Cup qualifiers

Hodgson accuses Montenegro of mind games

ESPN staff
March 25, 2013
England arrive for crucial World Cup qualifier

Roy Hodgson has dismissed claims by Montenegro coach Branko Brnovic that England are a long-ball team, suggesting the comments were just pre-match "mind games" from his opposite number.

Brnovic went on the offensive in his press conference ahead of the two nations' World Cup qualifier in Podgorica on Tuesday, saying England have a weak defence and accusing the FA of arrogance for arranging two autumn friendlies at a time when the Three Lions might be involved in a play-off.

But Hodgson believes his Montenegro counterpart is merely trying to crank up the intensity ahead of the crucial Group H clash, an approach the former Fulham and Inter Milan boss is unwilling to engage in himself.

"People are entitled to their opinions. I would say it is mind games," Hodgson said. "There is not too much doubt about that. I don't have an opinion (about what Brnovic has said).

"I'm surprised he thinks a defeat won't hurt Montenegro. Most coaches feel a defeat at all levels of football. I'm also quite confident people in England know how we play.

"I would suggest they know the team even better than their coach and will make their own decision on those statements. But, for me, it is water off a duck's back. Matches are not won or lost by coaches either making provocative statements or telling you what a wonderful team you are to lure you into a false sense of security.

"We've prepared for the game, we've studied Montenegro, we know a lot about their team, know their strengths and weaknesses. Anything said before the game is of no interest to us and makes no difference to the outcome of the game.''

Montenegro star Mirko Vucinic has also stoked the flames before Tuesday's game, claiming that the occasion would "test" the temperament of Wayne Rooney, who was sent off on his last visit to Montenegro.

But Hodgson, once again, was unwilling to entertain the provocative comments, saying: "I won't talk to Wayne personally. We talk about that (discipline) in general terms all the time.

"We take great interest in our disciplinary record because of the two yellow cards meaning a ban in this group. But Rooney's disciplinary record since the Montenegro game has been exemplary, he hasn't been booked for England, and I won't be talking to him in particular.

"I do trust the players and won't be making a particular point of it because I know the players are aware of it.''

Despite Montenegro leading the group at present, Hodgson believes his side are favourites in Podgorica. "Montenegro have started the campaign well but we feel, with the players we've got, we are capable of winning the game and may even be considered favourites to win the game," he said.

"I'm preferred to assume that responsibility. We know certainly on paper Montenegro pose a bigger threat maybe than San Marino. But, on the other hand, they are just another of the teams in the group and this is another game on the way to achieving our aim of qualification.

"We won't play for a draw. We have attacking qualities and will be trying to use those qualities.''

Defensively, however, England look more suspect - with injuries and withdrawals forcing Chris Smalling and Joleon Lescott together as an unexpected centre-back pairing. The situation is not causing Hodgson any concern.

"I remind people that in Joleon Lescott we have a man who last year helped Manchester City to their first title for 40 odd years," the England coach said. "In Chris Smalling we have someone who is playing regularly for the champions elect in Manchester United.

"It is not like we are being forced to play players who don't play at the highest level and don't have the ability to play at the highest level. I trust the pair of them and think they are going to do very well tomorrow night. There will be no sleep lost for me about that position.''

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