Roy Hodgson's England team must beat Switzerland to lift gloom

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Lights go out at England press conference
Uefa Euro 2016 Group E qualifier: Switzerland v England
Venue: St Jakob-Park, Basel Date: Monday, 8 September, kick-off 19:45 BST
Coverage: Live text commentary on BBC Sport website and app; full commentary on BBC Radio 5 live

The lights went out on Roy Hodgson on Sunday as he conducted his media duties in a hotel in downtown Basel before the opening Euro 2016 qualifier in Switzerland - but England's manager was in brighter mood after the industrial language and anger of his post-Norway inquisition.

Gone was the tetchy Hodgson, responding colourfully to unflattering statistics, his expletives hardly a shock in modern day football but perhaps a significant sign of the pressure he is now under after England's World Cup failure.

Roy Hodgson takes training with assistants Gary Neville and Captain Wayne Rooney
Roy Hodgson takes training with assistants Gary Neville and captain Wayne Rooney

The room was soon illuminated again but Hodgson and his England squad will be well aware that darkness will descend once more and the pressure will be turned up several notches if England fail in Basel's atmospheric St. Jakob-Park.

England's Euro 2016 group could hardly be more favourable, but the toughest test is arguably on Monday.

Hodgson's first competitive game since that ignominious summer exit in Brazil is against a Swiss side who returned from the World Cup with reputation enhanced after an unlucky last-16 loss to Argentina.

Switzerland's main threat will come from Bayern Munich's gifted midfield man, Xherdan Shaqiri, who claimed Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers tried to sign him in the summer.

There is plenty of optimism surrounding the Swiss camp given that they enjoyed a more fruitful World Cup than England, although veteran coach Ottman Hitzfeld has been replaced after his retirement by Vladimir Petkovic.

Shaqiri said: "None of us need to be told that starting with a qualifying win over England would be great. It might be the toughest game in the group but we are playing to win."

All eyes will be on the increasingly under-pressure Hodgson on Monday, as they were when he faced the media for the first time since his uncharacteristic outburst at Wembley following the 1-0 win against Norway on Wednesday.

England's last six fixtures
3 September: England 1-0 Norway (international friendly)
24 June: Costa Rica 0-0 England (World Cup Group D)
19 June: Uruguay 2-1 England (World Cup Group D)
14 June: England 1-2 Italy (World Cup Group D)
7 June: England 0-0 Honduras (international friendly)
4 June: Ecuador 2-2 England (international friendly)

In some respects normal service was resumed, Hodgson returning to his more traditional statesmanlike image.

With England captain Wayne Rooney raising a smile sitting to his right, Hodgson was happy to revise the public perception of the 67-year-old as a measured figure shaped by a nomadic career - one where some of his greatest successes came here in Switzerland, particularly when he guided the national side to the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

But he went on to reveal that he may not be the avuncular figure he sometimes seems.

Suggesting his blunt responses at Wembley were a more realistic glimpse into his personality than the reaction of a manager feeling the heat, he said: "First of all, I'm not a calm person and have never been a calm person.

Hodgson annoyed by two shot statistic

"Secondly, as any player who has worked with me would attest, there are always moments of extreme anger and viciousness in my coaching sessions."

He added: "I'd rather be accused of being a bit over robust in response to questions I didn't agree with. But is Roy Hodgson an angry person, has he got a nasty streak? You wouldn't have to go to far to prove it. The players would come out of the woodwork in no time.

"I've never sought popularity. I like to consider myself a good professional, a good coach and someone who believes in his players.

"If I was guilty of anything the other night, it was of protecting players from unfair criticism and standing up for them - but be careful stereotyping me too much as a calm, collected person."

England's Euro 2016 qualifiers
Switzerland (a) Monday, 8 September 2014; (h) 8 September 2015
San Marino (h) 9 October 2014; (a) 5 September 2015
Estonia (a) 12 October 2014; (h) 9 October 2015
Slovenia (h) 15 November 2014; (a) 14 June 2015
Lithuania (h) 27 March 2015; (a) 12 October 2015

Not so much a "no more Mr. Nice Guy" retort, more a suggestion that you should never judge a book by its cover - but Hodgson will know himself that plenty goes on the line for himself and England in Basel on Monday.

Given the scale of England's failure at the World Cup, effectively out after only two group games, the apathetic response mirrored by a turn-out of only just over 40,000 for the Norway friendly may well turn to anger should Switzerland overturn Hodgson's side.

Hodgson has been cut plenty of slack, helped by the Football Association's 100% commitment to his management and the lack of any obvious alternative should there even be the slightest appetite for change.

Raheem Sterling
Liverpool's Raheem Sterling is set to play against Switzerland behind main striker Wayne Rooney

Public mood, however, is a fickle beast. This is why Hodgson needs victory, as of course do England, in Basel to avoid a hasty and perhaps more forensic revisiting of the failings in Brazil.

Hodgson was in assured mood, outlining the young players such as Raheem Sterling who can give England reasons to be cheerful while insisting he is not a coach from the past who might struggle to impose his methods on, or prove an inspiration, to the new generation.

He was philosophical about the absence of Daniel Sturridge through injury while accepting his importance - perhaps because of how highly he values his likely replacement Danny Welbeck.

Rio Ferdinand: Former captain questions England tactics

Welbeck is very much a Hodgson favourite, not just for his ability and attitude, but his willingness and flexibility. He could be used as a direct replacement for Sturridge as a striker or pushed out to the left, which would offer the opportunity for Liverpool's Raheem Sterling to be used in his best position, doing damage behind the main striker - in this case Rooney.

England's manager remains a highly popular figure here in Switzerland, taking the chance to reminisce about his time here by delivering a verbal holiday brochure outlining the natural beauty of the country and his fondness for it.

If he leaves Basel late on Monday with even the smallest dent in that popularity, he will have at least started the process of rehabilitation after the World Cup and given a little gloss to a group that gets no marks for showbiz or box office with San Marino, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovenia to come.

So all was sweetness and light, well almost after the momentary plunge into the murk, but Hodgson - a man happy to call on his vast experiences - will know this mood music will only continue if he gets an acceptable result in Switzerland.


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