roy HODGSON insists the unity and spirit within the England squad remains as strong as ever despite the race row that engulfed his side’s qualification for next year’s World Cup.
The Three Lions will meet up next week ahead of a friendly double-header against Chile and Germany at Wembley.
It will be the first time the players and management will have come together since the controversy that followed Hodgson’s half-time team talk against Poland last month.
The England manager told a joke to illustrate why his players should give the ball to winger Andros Townsend but was forced to apologise after claims it was racist. The reporter who broke the story claimed his source came from within the England dressing room, something that suggested there may be a split in the ranks.
Hodgson, however, is in no doubt about how united his squad remain as the countdown continues to the World Cup draw in Brazil next month.
He said: “There is certainly no question in my mind about unity and about our spirit. No-one has yet proved to me that it came from the dressing room.
“I trust the players implicitly. The atmosphere at training and in the dressing room is outstanding. I have rarely worked with a club side with a spirit that is any better than here.
“I am disappointed about it (the story coming out), of course. It was an innocent remark which has been misconstrued. But it is over as far as I am concerned. My thoughts are purely on these two matches and the World Cup matches ahead.”
A tense Hodgson yesterday faced the media for the first time since the Townsend controversy blew up as he revealed his 28-man squad to face Chile and Germany.
In doing so, he sprang a couple of major surprises by naming uncapped Southampton duo Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana, who are both likely to face Hull City tomorrow in the Premier League.
They will join club-mate Ricky Lambert in the squad, Hodgson insisting that the pair deserve their call-up after an impressive start to the season with the south-coast club.
Rodriguez and Lallana apart, the biggest talking point surrounding the squad announcement was Joe Hart, this week dropped by Manchester City for the first time.
A flurry of below-par displays and mistakes, both when playing for City and England, pushed Manuel Pellegrini into the change. But Hodgson insists Hart remains his No 1 choice ahead of Fraser Forster of Celtic and Norwich City’s John Ruddy, both of whom have been named in the squad.
“Joe Hart will start one of the two games, yes,” said Hodgson when asked if he will ape Pellegrini and axe the City goalkeeper. “But I don’t think he will start both.
“It is important for me to look at one of the other goalkeepers, possibly both. But I can say Joe will definitely start one of the games as he is our No 1 goalkeeper.”
On Pellegrini’s decision to keep Hart on the sidelines for City’s last three matches, Hodgson added: “Every manager must manage his club in the way he thinks is the best way to manage the club and make the decision regarding players that he must make.
“I’d do the same thing. As far as I am concerned I look at the English goalkeepers who are available and then I choose the ones I want. Having chosen the ones I want, I then pick the one I think is best to play in goal.
“Up until now that has been Joe Hart and will continue to be so, certainly for these games.”
With a place at next year’s finals guaranteed, attention in the Three Lions camp has already turned to Brazil 2014.
England’s preparations are well advanced, but in terms of staging the tournament further fears have been raised this week about possible civil unrest in the country.
Major football convention, Soccerex – which is run by Duncan Revie, the son of former Leeds United manager Don – was due to take place on the eve of the tournament draw next month.
However, on Tuesday the well-established convention was cancelled with organisers citing the withdrawal of local government support due to “civil unrest”.
The state government of Rio denied that was the reason and claimed Soccerex organisers did not apply for the correct funding.
Despite these claims and counter-claims, security remains an area of concern ahead of the World Cup.
Hodgson was among those due to appear at the Maracana Stadium, but does not seem overly-concerned about the latest development.
He said: “I don’t think it will have any relevance on the World Cup in June 2014.
“There have been some problems over there as we all know. We can’t turn a blind eye to that, but we can only trust that the authorities are taking issue with any problems that are taking place over there.
“Where Soccerex fits into this, I wouldn’t know. Soccerex and the local authorities would know, but I think it would be harsh if we said because of this that suggests there will be problems at the World Cup.
“I don’t see any reason for that at the moment and really it would be a question of I suppose of waiting and seeing.”