Hodgson shrugs off Montenegro 'mind games'
PODGORICA, Montenegro (AFP) –
England manager Roy Hodgson has dismissed as “mind games” the attempts by Montenegro counterpart Branko Brnovic to put pressure on his side ahead of Tuesday’s key World Cup qualifying encounter.
In his pre-match press conference, Brnovic claimed England were “more scared” about the game in Podgorica than their hosts and also suggested that Hodgson’s side were reliant on “long passes”.
Hodgson refused to take the bait, however, and said he was happy for his side to be labelled favourites ahead of the clash between Group H’s top two.
“I think it’s definitely mind games, but I don’t really have an opinion on that,” Hodgson told a press conference on Monday.
“I was surprised that he thinks a defeat won’t hurt Montenegro. Coaches normally feel that defeats hurt them on all levels in football.
“If he’s suggesting that we should accept the burden of being favourites for the game, then we’ll accept it. We’re confident and we think we’ve got good players, so we’ll accept that responsibility.
“It’s what happens during the 95 minutes tomorrow night (Tuesday) that’s decisive anyway, so what people say beforehand doesn’t make a great deal of difference. It’s what the players do.”
Much of the build-up to the game in the English media has focused on the supposedly hostile atmosphere that England will encounter at the Podgorica City Stadium, but Hodgson distanced himself from those concerns.
“I guess I’m tempted to say the people you’re accusing here are across the row from me,” Hodgson told local reporters who raised the issue, indicating the English journalists in the room.
“As far as I know, no-one from the English Football Association, not me, nor anyone from the team has suggested there will be problems.
“We’ve come here to play a good football team, we think we’ve got a good football team and we’re looking forward to a good football match tomorrow night.”
He added: “Regarding the atmosphere, I’d prefer to wait and see. If you’re saying that, in playing in Montenegro, the fans will be active and supporting their team vocally, I’d say that’s how it should be and that’s what you’d expect.”
The pitch at the Montenegrin national stadium has recently undergone repairs and concerns about the state of the playing surface were exacerbated by a thunderstorm in Podgorica on Monday afternoon.
However, Hodgson made a detour to inspect the pitch en route to his press conference, and said he had been encouraged by what he had seen.
“We knew from our physio and our kitman that there was a bit of water lying on the pitch so we were a bit concerned we’d have to think about where we could train, but the pitch has dried out and is in great condition,” he said.
Hodgson also confirmed that right-back Glen Johnson was fit to play after resting a toe complaint in Friday’s 8-0 thrashing of San Marino.
Asked by a local journalist if he was worried about coming up against Jovetic, Gerrard replied: “The answer to your question is no, I’m not scared of Stevan Jovetic but I’m very respectful of their players.
“He’s a very good technician, as is Vucinic. England will be very respectful of your players but we’re not scared.”
With Montenegro still to visit Wembley in October, a draw would not necessarily be a disaster for England, who currently trail Tuesday’s opponents by two points.
Gerrard, though, wants his side to assert their authority on the group as quickly as possible.
“We’d be very disappointed to lose this game but I have confidence and belief that we’re capable of getting the result we want,” he said.
“A draw’s not the end of the world but we want to take control of this group because we don’t play for a long time after it.”