England head coach Roy Hodgson last night refused to be drawn into mind games with Montenegro counterpart Branko Brnovic and wants his team do their talking on the pitch in tonight’s World Cup qualifier in Podgorica.
Brnovic accused England of being a long-ball team, being scared of the fixture, having a weak defence and being arrogant by pencilling in friendlies for next November’s play-off dates.
But Hodgson has all his focus on trying to pull off the victory which would see England wrestle top spot in the Group H away from their opponents, who currently hold a two-point advantage.
He said: “People are entitled to their opinions. I would say it is mind games. There is not too much doubt about that. I don’t have an opinion (about what Brnovic has said).
“I’m surprised he thinks a defeat won’t hurt Montenegro. Most coaches feel a defeat at all levels of football.
“I’m also quite confident people in England know how we play.
“I would suggest they know the team even better than their coach and will make their own decision on those statements. But, for me, it is water off a duck’s back. Matches are not won or lost by coaches either making provocative statements or telling you what a wonderful team you are to lure you into a false sense of security.”
Hodgson added: “We’ve prepared for the game, we’ve studied Montenegro, we know a lot about their team, know their strengths and weaknesses. “Anything said before the game is of no interest to us and makes no difference to the outcome of the game.”
Hodgson has no plans to talk specifically to Wayne Rooney about keeping his discipline after his sending off in a Euro 2012 qualifier in the same stadium 17 months ago. With high stakes, England have been called into question about their discipline.
Hodgson said: “I won’t talk to Wayne personally. We talk about that (discipline) in general terms all the time. We take great interest in our disciplinary record because of the two yellow cards meaning a ban in this group. But Rooney’s disciplinary record since the Montenegro game has been exemplary, he hasn’t been booked for England, and I won’t be talking to him in particular.”
And, despite the standing, Hodgson thinks England will probably be made favourites to triumph in Podgorica.
He said: “Montenegro have started the campaign well but we feel, with the players we’ve got, we are capable of winning the game and may even be considered favourites to win.”
In terms of his selection, Hodgson has confidence in the Joleon Lescott-Chris Smalling centre-back pairing to deal with the threat likely to be posed by Mirko Vucinic and Stevan Jovetic. But Vucinic is licking his lips at the prospect of going head to head with Smalling and Lescott in the absence of defenders like John Terry and Rio Ferdinand.
“I certainly do see that as a source of weakness because, if they do not play for their own clubs, I don’t see why their national coach should pick them,” the 29-year-old said.
“I’m sure the match would be better and more interesting if (Ferdinand or Terry) played because they are certainly among the best defenders in the world today.”
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