Hodgson challenges fringe players

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Published: Sunday 29th March 2015 by The News Editor

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Roy Hodgson wants his fringe players to prove a point to him in Turin as he prepares to field an “experimental” line-up against Italy.

England’s confidence is running high after they thumped Lithuania 4-0 on Friday to stretch their post-World Cup winning streak to seven matches.

They know a much stiffer test lies around the corner though. Italy find themselves in the midst of a crisis after coach Antonio Conte received death threats from angry Juventus fans who blame him for causing Claudio Marchisio to break down with a serious knee injury.

The Azzurri are also without experienced campaigners Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi, but they are still by far the toughest opposition England have faced since their winless and joyless campaign in Brazil.

Hodgson’s plans have been turned completely upside down after nine squad withdrawals, though. The likes of Chris Smalling, Kieran Gibbs, Andros Townsend, Theo Walcott and Ross Barkley are likely to get a chance in Turin and with competition for places increasing, particularly in midfield and attack, Hodgson wants to see encouraging signs from those who step in.

“We’ve got a tougher test ahead of us against Italy and we will be playing that game with players we wouldn’t normally rely upon,” the England manager told FA TV.

“There are an awful lot of people in the squad I count on that we’ve lost, but what it means is for those who are still with us, many who are relatively untried, there will be a chance for them to show that my faith in selecting them for this squad was justified.”

Hodgson confirmed on Saturday that Danny Welbeck, Raheem Sterling, James Milner and Leighton Baines would all return to their clubs.

Southampton full-back Ryan Bertrand is the only replacement so Hodgson now has 20 players – including three goalkeepers – to choose from.

Those left are an inexperienced bunch. Eight players have 10 caps or less.

In a bid, perhaps, to dampen expectations running high following Harry Kane’s impressive debut on Friday, Hodgson was moved to describe his line-up as “experimental” on Sunday.

The England manager says his team should not be judged on the result of Tuesday’s game at the Juventus Stadium, but later in the season when they are expected to play big friendlies against the likes of Spain, Holland and France.

“The real test against tougher opposition will be when the qualifying campaign is over,” the 67-year-old said.

“When the qualifying campaign ends – we believe we’ll be qualified in October – then we have two very important friendlies in November, two important friendlies in March, certainly in May.

“Hopefully we’ll get really quality opposition to play us in those matches which will really put us seriously to the test.

“There are a number of players who quite seriously believe they should be in the team and none of them will be in Italy.

“Italy and Ireland (in June) will be to some extent experimental and a chance to break in to what we think is our best XI.”

Still, a win against the nation that beat them in their World Cup opener last summer will do no harm to morale, especially if Kane puts on another performance like the one that saw him score after just 79 seconds on the pitch on Friday.

For Hodgson it will be the first time he has visited the new Juventus Stadium.

He did not enjoy that much success at the Old Lady’s former ground, the Stadio delle Alpi, when he was in charge at Inter Milan, mainly because he always came up against a team containing the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Didier Deschamps and Zinedine Zidane.

Hodgson lost twice in the league at Juventus, but a 3-0 Coppa Italia win over the Turin giants is still remembered fondly by Inter fans.

“I didn’t have many happy moments in Turin,” Hodgson said.

“Juventus were clearly the best team in the country during my time with many, many star players.

“Apart from one cup victory which we had there, invariably we didn’t get the results we wanted.

“But I’m happy to be going back to Italy as a country and I’m happy to be playing Italy again.”

Published: Sunday 29th March 2015 by The News Editor

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