By Rob Harris ,AP
KRAKOW, Poland — Less than a week before the European Championship opens, England coach Roy Hodgson is faced with a team weak in technical ability and often uncomfortable in ball possession.
England’s best chance of winning at Euro 2012 may be to emulate Chelsea’s Champions League-winning tactic of frustrating opponents.
The first test will come against France on Monday.
“I imagine the team will be built around being solid, difficult to beat in the first game, because I don’t think we are in a situation where at the moment as a country we can go out there and outplay too many teams,” said Gareth Southgate, a former England defender who is now the head of elite player development for the English Football Association.
“We rarely out-possess other countries, so we’ve got to think logically about how we set up and the best way to get results,” Southgate said. “That’s not negative.”
England, which has already lost four members of the 23-man squad because of injuries, beat Spain 1-0 in November despite the World champions’ superiority at Wembley Stadium. Both Euro 2012 warm-up matches — against Norway and Belgium — have also been 1-0 wins.
“How did we beat Spain? How did Chelsea get through against Barcelona (in the Champions League semifinals)? In certain games you have to accept the opposition might get more of the ball so that tends to dictate what you do with your selection,” Southgate said.
However, Hodgson, who took charge of the team last month, said he won’t play a defensive game at Euro 2012.
“If you don’t defend well when the opposition have got the ball and you concede goals, … that loses you games,” Hodgson told the BBC. “And if you don’t do anything with the ball or attack and you can’t score then you don’t win anyway.”
Former Ireland captain Roy Keane, who spent years playing in the midfield for Manchester United, said England will struggle at Euro 2012 because club priorities fracture the team.
“There are a lot of rivalries, particularly with the clubs they are at,” Keane said.
“The priority for a lot of top players now is not international football, it’s the Champions League,” Keane added. “Whereas years ago, when players were starting out, whatever sport they were playing, the pinnacle was playing for your country. It’s not any more.”
Besides the problems facing England in Poland and Ukraine, Southgate is also pessimistic about the future of the England team.
“I look outside the squad and the standby list and there aren’t too many players that come into your thinking as being of international quality,” Southgate said. “The pool of players to pick from is the biggest thing … We have to look at developing young players and changing how we do that.”