• World Cup qualifiers

Hodgson: 'It's still in our hands'

ESPN staff
March 28, 2013
Roy Hodgson remained optimistic in Podgorica

Coach Roy Hodgson has attempted to calm concerns about England's chances of qualifying for next year's World Cup finals but accepted the play-offs could be in store.

The 1-1 draw in Montenegro may not on paper have been a disaster, but the second half capitulation has brought much criticism with many suggesting the best England can hope for is a place in the play-offs.

While Hodgson remains focused on overtaking Montenegro at the top of the group, he is not afraid of a possible two-legged play-off in November.

"No one wants to be in the play-offs but the fact is in World Cup qualification, one team qualifies,'' Hodgson said. "Everyone knows that to qualify as the team that wins the group is that much harder.

"At the moment I shall focus all my attention on the friendlies in the summer, then I shall work even harder on those important four qualifiers that we have through September and October.

"If, as a result of our performances, we are second in the group, then we will worry about the team we have to qualify against.''

With home games against Moldova, Montenegro and Poland to come, plus a trip to Ukraine in September, qualifying is still in England's hands. Montenegro's home game with Ukraine in September will be important not just in the race for top spot but also Ukraine's hopes of getting back into the qualification race.

"We have an important four or five weeks from the middle of September to the middle of October, with three matches at home and one difficult one away,'' Hodgson added. "By not losing this week, we have given ourselves a chance.

"But it is not quite as simple as us against them. Montenegro have to play Poland and Ukraine and they have to play against each other.''

On speculation that Hodgson will be sacked if England do not make Brazil 2014, Hodgson said: "It is not for me to say [what the minimum requirement is]. I care as much about qualifying as anyone else and will try to do the best job I can.

"But I do know my expectations are not going to vary from anybody else's. They are always very high. We, as footballers, coaches and fans, want England to qualify for the major tournaments. As yet, we have not failed to do so.

"Maybe that question will become a bit more relevant if the day ever comes when we do fail. Until such time as we do fail I prefer to look forward positively and keep working towards our goal.''

James Milner insists England's World Cup destiny remains in their own hands. He said: "We're massively disappointed. We got the early goal, quietened the crowd, were well on top, and they didn't have too many chances.

"It was disappointing to come out and start the way we did in the second half. They got on top and, once they get on top, it's very hard in a game like that to get the momentum back. We didn't quite match them for whatever reason.

"The return match will be a tough game but a completely different atmosphere. We're at home, familiar surroundings and it's Wembley, our home pitch. Hopefully we can win our remaining games and qualify. It's still in our hands and it's not a problem.

"The main thing is that even though we didn't play as well in the second half as we did in the first, we didn't lose the game. We are confident. It's always difficult to come to these places, play in these sort of atmospheres. It's still in our hands so hopefully we can take them back to Wembley and get the three points there.''

Goalkeeper Joe Hart insists England are refusing to contemplate the possibility of failing to qualify for the finals. He said: "People ask about not holding on against Poland and Montenegro but they are tough places to come. Hopefully we will look back at Tuesday night as a good point earned.

"You've got to give respect to the opposition. I thought Montenegro were great in the second half and they made it hard for us. How I do assess the group? It is going to be tough. It is a really tough thing to qualify for a World Cup and you kind of take it a bit for granted.

"That's what we expect as a nation. We are England, we should be qualifying for things but it is easier said than done. But that's our plan (to qualify) and it is going to be difficult, but we aim to really capitalise on the home games.''

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