ROY HODGSON is remaining steadfastly upbeat despite England being handed their toughest World Cup group draw since 2002 – with Italy and Uruguay lying in wait next summer in Brazil.
Central American minnows Costa Rica were the other side England were pitted together with in Group D following the draw in Bahia, with bookmakers immediately lengthening Hodgson’s side odds to 40-1 from 25-1 following its conclusion.
Many supporters have been quick to state that ‘D’ stands for ‘death’ in the case of England’s group, with Football Association chairman Greg Dyke also appearing to dismiss the Three Lions’ chances of progression by slidomg his index finger across his throat after they were placed in Group D.
He did not say a word to either Hodgson or general secretary Alex Horne, sat either side of him, but he did not need to with the interpretation of his gesture clear.
England open with a clash in the jungle city of Manaus – a venue Hodgson was keen not to play in due to the 80 per cent humidity – on June 15 against four-time winners Italy, who knocked them out of Euro 2012 at the quarter-final stage in their last game at a major tournament.
Up next are Uruguay, who have won the World Cup twice, in Sao Paolo on June 19 before England finish off against the Costa Ricans in Belo Horizonte – where they lost to the USA in 1950.
Officials from the Italian and Costa Rican delegations described the group as “the group of death”, but Hodgson’s glass steadfastly remains half full.
After the 2002 World Cup draw, England’s hopes of progression were also written off after they were paired with Sweden, Argentina and Nigeria, only for the side, managed by Sven Goran Eriksson, to finish as runners-up.
It will take a similar effort for England to avoid being knocked out of the competition at the group stages for the first time since 1958, but Hodgson for one is retaining a sense of calm and perspective after the draw.
It’s perhaps a wise philosophy, given that England’s pairing with Slovenia, USA and Algeria at the 2010 World Cup draw in Cape Town was seen as the equivalent of a free pass by many when it most definitely wasn’t.
One newspaper famously even spelt out the first letters of England, Algeria, Slovenia and Yanks as EASY, when the reality proved the opposite with the Three Lions stumbling abjectly to the last 16 before bowing out in embarrassing and inept fashion to Germany.
Hodgson said before the draw he would stake £10 on England winning the tournament, and says he will adhere to that pledge regardless of developments.
He said: “It’s a tough group, but we’re not the only team that is in a tough group.
“I can’t deny that it’s not the group we would have plucked out for ourselves.
“I’m glad they (other managers) do all the nominating of names for the type of group it is. I’ll just call it Group D.
“I think its going to be very tough. If it is a group what is being named, you’d think it’s our presence in it contributes to that. People are not going to be rubbing their hands with joy because they’ve got to play England.”
Club England managing director Adrian Bevington said there was “a lot of banter” among the England delegation about Dyke’s gesture, but said the FA chairman “felt the draw could’ve been a lot more difficult”.
Should England make it through they will face one of either Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast or Japan. A quarter-final with either Spain or Brazil could then be on the cards – again in the sultry north.
Hodgson highlighted Manaus as the worst possible venue earlier this week, but is grateful for small mercies in that the 9pm kick-off time against fellow Europeans means the temperature will drop to around 23 degrees centigrade.
FIFA is understood to be unwilling to relocate the game and while broadcasters may want the game to take place earlier, England do not want that to happen.
Bevington added: “That’s something for TV and FIFA and we have no control over it. But playing at 9pm in Manaus is clearly helpful from our side and from a football point of view.”
England – who will clock up 4,500 miles during the group stages – are expected to fly to Manaus two days before the Italy game so they can become accustomed to the conditions.
The fact that they are playing in the southern city of Belo Horizonte does mean, at least, that they will be able to base themselves in Rio as they had wanted to.
Regardless of where they play and at what time, there is no doubt that England are taking on A-grade opposition.
Commenting on the draw, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli put a brave face on the outcome like Hodgson, stating: “There are three champions of the world in our group but we are not worried – I am not worried.
“When the media tell you it’s an easy group, that’s when you have to worry. I’m only worried about the conditions because no matter who you are up against, you have to deal with the weather.”