Poland, June 4: His team beset by injuries after less than a month in charge, Roy Hodgson has conceded that England will struggle to beat France in their European Championship opener.
A trio of influential players has been ruled out of the tournament with injuries even before the team travels to its Polish base, while both warmup matches have produced unconvincing 1-0 victories over sides which failed to qualify for Euro 2012.
On top of that, Hodgson must cope without Wayne Rooney for the group matches against France and Sweden due to his suspension for kicking an opponent in the last qualifier, with the striker only available for the group stage finale against co-host Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the French, whose World Cup campaign was even more calamitous than England's, have been transformed in the last two years by Laurent Blanc.
“I have got a team in my head that can do very well against (France), whether we can beat them I don't know,” Hodgson said. “When you have gone 21 games unbeaten (if France beat Estonia on Tuesday) you have obviously have something.
“And, what's more, you have got a lot of games behind you, and a lot of matches together with this particular team that you have believed in.”
Defensive midfielder Yann M'Vila is Blanc's only major injury concern going into Euro 2012.
“He might have to replace M'Vila ... but the team takes care of itself,” Hodgson said. “We can't suggest that we're in that position at the moment, not least of all because of our key figures, Rooney can't play in the first two games and of course other key figures have suddenly left us.”
The prevailing sense of realism in England about the team's prospects of ending a 46-year title drought has been heightened by the string of tournament-ending injuries since Hodgson named his 23-man squad three weeks ago.
The first setback was losing third-choice goalkeeper John Ruddy to a broken finger, but key midfielders Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard, and defender Gary Cahill have also sustained injuries in the last week.
A draw against France would seem to be an accomplishment for England.
“I am happier that we are moving towards a team which I think can not only give them a good game,” Hodgson said. “If we have a bit of luck on our side, who knows, perhaps we can win it.
“But I am not suggesting that we will and I don't think we'll go into the game as favorites to be frank—not in terms of what France have done in the last couple of years vis-a-vis what we have done.”
While France is on a 20-game unbeaten run, England's last loss came in February against the Netherlands when Stuart Pearce was in temporary charge following Fabio Capello's resignation.
But it is not all bleak in the England camp as the country seeks to make amends for their last-16 exit at the World Cup.
Hodgson was encouraged by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's youthful energy as the 18-year-old Arsenal winger made his first start in Saturday's victory against Belgium, even if he did seem too keen to impress at times.
“It is a good fault though isn't it. We have been trying to encourage that a little bit,” Hodgson said. “We have got quick players. I don't think we have got into those areas anywhere near as much as I would have liked ... but the good thing is that if we could get into those areas, the players we have got there, with their pace and ability, they can cause problems.
“Our message to the players has been that they have to be brave and show some courage. They have to try it on. If it doesn't work, we will take the responsibility. We would rather they take it on, than turn back and play the ball back again because you are worried that if you try and go by the guy and lose the ball everyone is going to criticize you.”