England faces 'big test' against Switzerland

AFP/The Local
AFP/The Local - [email protected] • 7 Sep, 2014 Updated Sun 7 Sep 2014 21:43 CEST
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England manager Roy Hodgson admitted on Sunday that his team will face a "big test" when they open their 2016 European Championship football qualifying campaign against Switzerland in Basel on Monday.

Having been knocked out of the World Cup in the group phase, England returned to action with an unconvincing 1-0 win over Norway in a friendly last Wednesday and in Group E rivals Switzerland they face a team ranked 11 places above them in the world.
   
Although England can afford to finish second in the group, as the top two teams are guaranteed to qualify for Euro 2016, Hodgson concedes he would have preferred to play the Swiss later in the campaign.
   
"Switzerland are our major rivals for the number one spot and in an ideal world we'd have liked a bit more time with this group of players to see how we can form them into the team we have in our head," Hodgson told a press conference in Basel.

"But you don't get that benefit," he said.

"You play matches when they're due to be played.

"Tomorrow (Monday) will be a big test for them, but I'm sure we'll come away from it having learnt a lot."
   
Monday's match at St Jakob-Park pits Hodgson against the team he steered to the World Cup finals in 1994 — the first time Switzerland had qualified for the tournament for 28 years.
   
The former Liverpool manager spent six years as Switzerland coach and he said that he was delighted to be back in familiar surroundings.

"Whenever I come back to Switzerland, I always feel as if it's a return to another homeland," Hodgson said. 

"Everything seems so familiar to me," he said.

"Also, the beauty of everything you see around you reminds me that I perhaps took that too much for granted when I lived here.
   
"I really enjoyed my time in Switzerland — it was a fantastic six years.

"It's always a pleasure and an honour to come back here."
   
England will be without striker Daniel Sturridge due to a thigh injury, but Hodgson confirmed that there had been no fresh injuries since the game against Norway.
   
New England captain Wayne Rooney said it was important the team set the right tone in their first qualifying game.
   
"If we get a positive result we'll give everyone a lot of confidence to go on and do well in this group," Rooney said.
   
"We're focused, we came out here today, we're ready for the game, and hopefully we'll get the result we want," he said.

Vladimir Petkovic, Switzerland's new coach, taking over from Ottmar Hitzfeld, said he felt the two teams were on an equal footing.

"I am very proud to be coaching this team," the Bosnian-Swiss is quoted as saying by 20 Minutes newspaper.

Petkovic said he did not consider it a problem for Switzerland to be considered by some to be the favourite to win.

The most important thing, he said, was to "confirm it on the pitch". 

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AFP/The Local 2014/09/07 21:43

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