England's hopes hang on pragmatic Hodgson

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Football News

As Roy Hodgson took charge of his first public training session as England manager in Manchester this morning, I can't help but feel cautiously optimistic.

Maybe the warm weather is getting the better of me, but as the Three Lions begin their pre-tournament preparations, before heading off to Poland and Ukraine for this summer's European Championships, there seems to be a quiet sense of renewed self-belief.

With expectations ahead of the major finals at an all-time low, there is arguably no better time for the players to do themselves justice, and deliver the sort of performance that will leave the nation content at what they will have seen.

Saturday's warm-up game against Norway in Oslo will provide the perfect occasion for experiment, with players on the periphery of the squad given the chance to stake their claim for a starting berth. The match will also be the stage for attacking auditions for those who feel capable of filling the void left by Wayne Rooney, during his two-game ban during the group stages of the tournament.

The final game against Belgium at Wembley on June 2 will be Hodgson's opportunity to start his first-choice England XI ahead of the country's opening fixture against France in Donetsk on Monday June 11, and also the moment for fans to gauge just how well we could do at Euro 2012 this summer.

Speaking to the press earlier this afternoon, Manchester City midfielder James Milner revealed that the spirit in the camp is good, and spoke of how the confidence gained from his side's Premier League title success, as well as the Chelsea players' Champions League glory this season, can only help the squad going into the tournament.

"Our players will be going to the tournament on a high and full of confidence and that's what you want," he said. "Winning is a habit and you want to get into the habit of winning trophies and getting that winning mentality.

"Both ourselves and Chelsea have had a good season, winning the Premier League and the Champions League and if players have had that taste and had a good season, even for the players at clubs who maybe haven't won anything but had good seasons, it's only a good thing for us as a team going out there to Poland."

Milner has no previous experience of working with Hodgson, but the pragmatic coach is already making his presence felt in and around the England dressing-room, and has made clear his thoughts and ideas of how he wants the team to play.

"He really wants to get across how he wants us to set up and play," he explained. "We've had a couple of sessions, they've been tough and he's really got across how he wants us to line-up and play, both when we've got the ball and when we haven't got the ball.

"All Managers have their own styles and he has gone around the lads and spoken to them on what he expects from them, positionally, which is important and how defensively he wants to move the ball around. As individuals, he has pulled us aside and had those conversations and what he sees for us.

"Although there are couple of members of the squad who aren't here, I think we've had a good couple of sessions and the lads are pretty clear on how we're going to set up and how he wants to play. The lads are feeling ready to go."

Milner's City teammate Joleon Lescott reiterated his comments that confidence is high off the back of a successful club season for a number of players in the England fold.

"The training has gone well, it was quite intense and the boys were buzzing," added the defender. "It can bode well for the country and the team. Coming off the back of a title the confidence will be high and that's the same for the Chelsea boys. Now we want to do well for England.

"Confidence comes with performances as well. The Spain game [when England won 1-0 in a friendly] with a clean sheet, my confidence was up anyway, so that can only enhance it by winning the Premier League.

"We will try to use anything to help our confidence going forward. If you ask any player or fan, we still we believe we can win the tournament and that is the aim."

Hodgson's experience of managing expectations at an international tournament and the intense media glare that comes with it, will be invaluable in the build-up to this summer's showpiece. Those who questioned his initial appointment will soon realise that while the former Baggies boss may not have been everyone's first-choice, he is the right one.

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