Hodgsons England must win with style
England manager Roy Hodgson has warned his players not to underestimate minnows Moldova in Friday's opening World Cup qualifier.
Hodgson's side start on the road to Brazil with a trip to face the unheralded Moldovans in Chisinau's Zimbru Stadium and are widely expected to cruise to victory.
Moldova's last match ended in a 0-0 draw with Albania so it is hardly surprising England are heavy favourites, but Hodgson believes it is potentially fatal to take any team for granted at international level, especially when his own preparations for the Group H fixture have been disrupted by a string of injuries.
Hodgson will be without Wayne Rooney, Andy Carroll, Ashley Cole and Adam Johnson and he has been quick to hammer home the message that his squad must guard against complacency.
"I know that outside of our little group who are preparing for the game, there will be a lot of thought that Moldova are not very special, not very strong, but we certainly don't go into the game with that thought at all," Hodgson said.
"We go into the game knowing they had a draw and a narrow defeat against Holland in the last qualifying campaign.
"If we are not aware of the fact that this is a major hurdle of the 10 hurdles we have to jump over then we would be very, very foolish.
"And, certainly, my message to the players is that I don't care if they are called Moldova. As far as I'm concerned, they could be called Brazil and we have to produce a performance to win us the game.
"And if it turns out that perhaps they are not that good after all then I will be very happy."
While Hodgson would probably settle for any kind of win as he looks to put England on track for the 2014 World Cup, the former Liverpool and Fulham boss could do with delivering an eye-catching performance as well after his team's tame exit from Euro 2012.
Hodgson enjoyed something of a honeymoon period in Poland and Ukraine, avoiding criticism even though England played most of their four matches with an ultra-negative approach that led to some tedious encounters.
Rather than take the game to the opposition, Hodgson was happy to send his players out with the intention of camping on the edge of their own penalty area in a bid to frustrate and then occasionally attack on the break.
The nadir of that conservative philosophy game in the quarter-final exit against Italy when England allowed Andrea Pirlo to dictate play in a 0-0 draw that ended with yet another penalty shoot-out defeat.
Given the circumstances of his appointment as Fabio Capello's successor just before the tournament started, Hodgson was given the benefit of the doubt at the Euros, but there is no chance he will escape so lightly if he persists with those negative tactics in the qualifying campaign.
England are expected to ease through a group that also includes Montenegro, Ukraine, Poland and San Marino, but the manner of the team's progress will be as important as the actual results.
If England are to have any chance of making an impact in Brazil, Hodgson must show he can produce teams capable of grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck rather than wait for the opposition to succumb to boredom.
But for now he is just focused on avoiding an potential embarrassment in Chisinau.
"Moldova have technical players, players who are basically unknown outside of eastern Europe," he said. "Very few, if any of them, play in Moldova - they play in Russia or Ukraine and in quite good teams.
"We have to come to terms with what's the stadium going to be like, what's the atmosphere going to be like, what's the pitch going to be like, and make sure the players go into the game with the best possible preparation."
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