LONDON, (Reuters) – England manager Roy Hodgson will face the familiar dilemma of youth versus experience when he comes to selecting his squad for next year’s World Cup in Brazil.
Victories in the final two qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland lifted England to the top of Group H and secured a spot in the finals as young Tottenham Hotspur winger Andros Townsend grabbed the headlines for his outstanding performances.
The 22-year-old justified Hodgson’s gamble on him by scoring on his debut in the 4-1 win over Montenegro and terrorising the Polish defenders with his pacy runs down the right.
But it was the old guard of Wayne Rooney, who turns 28 this month, and 33-year-old captain Steven Gerrard who scored in the 2-0 win over Poland at Wembley on Tuesday.
“At the moment, it’s all looking very good. I was delighted that the two goal scorers last night were Rooney and Gerrard… because they have been immense in this campaign,” Hodgson told reporters at a London hotel yesterday.
“A lot of people have been fantastic but these are two guys who really have had to bear a lot more of the responsibility than some of the other guys and they’ve really stepped up to the plate and delivered.”
Hodgson reserved particular praise for Manchester United striker Rooney who finished the qualifiers with seven goals to his name.
“He’s done well throughout, although his performances recently have been crowning glories,” said Hodgson.
“It’s not just been a good performance and a good team performance its also been decisive performances with his goals.”
Alongside Townsend, the likes of his Spurs team mate Kyle Walker, Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere and Everton’s Ross Barkley have made a mark for their Premier League teams and been banging on the England door.
West Ham’s England Under-21 midfielder Ravel Morrison, who scored twice against Lithuania, has also caught the eye of Hodgson and is being touted in the British media as a possible wildcard for the World Cup squad.
“Morrison has burst on to the scene. He interests us, he’s a fantastic player,” said Hodgson.
“I think it’s going to be very interesting to see in the next six months which of the Under-21 players really mount a serious challenge.
But they will have to first dislodge international stalwarts such as midfielder Frank Lampard and left back Ashley Cole, who along with Gerrard have over 300 caps between them.
“We’re not going to jettison any players light-heartedly,” added Hodgson.
“These players have done extremely well so far for the team and I’ll be monitoring them and working with them and we’ll see what happens when the time comes.
“It will be a very difficult decision in terms of selection because we’ve got a lot of good young players to talk about and we’ve still got the good old guard ready and able to play as well so it’s not going to be an easy time that and I’m sure that will give me lots of reason for thought.”
No European side has won the World Cup in South America and after England’s less than convincing qualifying campaign, Hodgson was keen to avoid the expectation and hyperbole that has plagued the team’s appearances at previous championships.
“It’s pretty obvious we’re not favourites to win the World Cup. We’ll do the best we can,” he said.
“I’m pleased we’re there, I’m pleased we’ll be a part of it. I’ll worry about whether we can win it later on,” he said.
Asked who he thought were contenders to win the tournament, the 66-year-old said: “I would say Brazil and Argentina from South America, from what I know of South American football which isn’t a great deal.
“Of the European teams, I’ll go along with everyone else – it’s Spain and Germany – and I don’t know enough about the African and Asian teams to hazard a guess.”
Brazil will be Hodgson’s second World Cup appearance as a manager after he took unfancied Switzerland to the finals in 1994 for the first time in 28 years.
But even if things had played out differently for Hodgson in his career he may still have been taking people to next year’s finals in Brazil.
“When Bobby Houghton and I started off in our late 20s in management we were going to retire at 40, the pair of us and start a travel agency,” Hodgson said to amused looks.
“I sometimes think of it now, 26 years after my 40th birthday and wonder what would’ve become of me if we had actually decided to fulfil our idea.”