MANAGER Roy Hodgson will put off making a decision on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fitness until the eve of England’s World Cup opener against Italy.
The Three Lions kick off their campaign next Saturday in the inhospitable conditions of Manaus, a thousand miles up the River Amazon.
Hodgson’s men are currently acclimatising for the expected hot and humid weather with a training camp in Miami, where the England manager this week received his first injury blow of the build-up.
What had initially appeared an innocuous incident in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Ecuador resulted in Oxlade-Chamberlain sustaining medial ligament damage in his right knee, which could rule him out for two to three weeks.
“There’s no change,” Hodgson said of the midfielder’s situation ahead of today’s final pre-World Cup friendly against Honduras.
“He’s been working with the physios the last couple of days and we’ll monitor the situation and keep our fingers crossed that the injury is not too serious and he’ll be able to recover in time to take part in this World Cup for us.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain trained alone as he stepped up his rehabilitation inside Barry University’s training base yesterday, while the other 22 players took to the field alongside standby duo Jon Flanagan and John Stones.
Despite not being like-for-like replacements, the defensive pair look best placed to come in should the Arsenal midfielder fail to make it – not that Hodgson is even contemplating that possibility just yet.
“[A decision] won’t be before we go to Brazil, it will be at the very, very last moment, which in my understanding is 24 hours before we play our first game,” he said.
“But they are working very hard with him and he’s working very hard himself, so let’s see and let’s hope that it is not that serious and it won’t even be a question of him leaving us.
“He’s very positive. He’s a very positive character. Obviously it was a major blow, the injury, because he was playing so well.
“He’s had a long period of inactivity through injury and to see him playing that well and having such a dominant effect on the game excited us all.
“He must have been pleased with that performance so you can imagine how sad he is now that he’s got to spend a bit more time on the sidelines. His mood is good and our mood in regards to his injury is good.”
Captain Steven Gerrard has pledged that England will go at full throttle against Honduras, despite seeing Oxlade-Chamberlain sustain his potentially tournament-ending injury.
“I think the players have got to be professional and sensible in training,” said Gerrard. “We don’t want any stupid tackles and any unnecessary injures.
“But in the game, there’s no holding back. We’re here to train and play as hard as we can and that’ll certainly be the case against Honduras.”
Oxlade-Chamberlain is not the only player absent for today’s match against Honduras, with Raheem Sterling suspended for the Sun Life Stadium encounter.
The teenage winger was sent off late in the match against Ecuador for a mis-timed tackle on Antonio Valencia, who reacted by grabbing him by the throat.
The red card denies Sterling a place in England’s line-up to face Honduras, but will not impact his chances of starting against Italy next week.
“His reaction has been excellent,” Hodgson said, having confirmed the involvement of the seven players completely rested against Ecuador.
“You saw the games and the passing practice we did in training (yesterday) and I thought he was unstoppable at times. Some of the things he did out there were quite breath-taking.
“He’s not going to lose anything in terms of fitness and the way he plays, so the dilemma, if you like, that I will have is that there are more than 11 players that I actually think are more than capable of taking the field against Italy.
“I don’t need to see a performance from him on the field (today) to tell me that he is good enough and capable enough of playing if I decide to select him for the Italy game. But I am disappointed for him because I make no secret of the fact that I did intend to play him in this game.
“I actually held him back in the Wednesday game knowing I was going to play him from the start in this game, so of course when he got sent off that was a blow to my thoughts and plans, but that doesn’t affect his chance of playing in the first-team when the tournament starts.”
England boss Hodgson on ‘drifter’ Rooney: Page 3.