Captain Steven Gerrard has challenged England to overcome the loss of several key players when they launch their Euro 2012 campaign against France in Donetsk tonight.
Head coach Roy Hodgson is relieved to have a clean bill of health amongst the players left at his disposal with James Milner (heel) and Martin Kelly (illness) available. But the likes of Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Gary Cahill will be missing from the tournament through injury while Wayne Rooney is suspended for the opening two games.
Gerrard said: “People say there is less pressure because of the injuries but what we’ve got to do as players is share the responsibility around the group. Any squad would miss the likes of Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry, Gary Cahill but you have to cope and get on with it and we’re really confident we can do well.”
England face the French and Sweden before Rooney is available for the final group game against Ukraine in Donetsk after his red card against Montenegro in a qualifier. Gerrard said: “I’m sure Wayne is frustrated. I know he regrets what he’s done, but he’s coping well. He’s itching to get out there and play himself.
Gerrard lead England at the 2010 World Cup in the absence of the injured Rio Ferdinand but will be leading his country on an official basis at a tournament for the first time. He said: “It’s fantastic. I’ve said how proud I am to lead the boys out. The spirit in the camp is fantastic. The preparation has gone really well. We’re itching to get started.”
>> Terry vs Benzema
Benzema has blossomed into one of Europe’s deadliest strikers at Real Madrid and England will rely on Terry to shut him down.
>> Parker vs Nasri
Nasri can be devastating on his day. Anchor man Parker needs to ensure space is at a premium for France’s playmaker.
>> Welbeck vs Mexes
Manchester United’s young striker Danny Welbeck will target Mexes, who is viewed as the weak link in France’s defence, if he gets his maiden competitive start tonight.
>> France were involved in the highest-scoring match in European Championship history in 1990 when they lost 5-4 to Yugoslavia.
>> England have progressed beyond the group stage just three times in European Championship history. They reached the semi-final in 1964 and 1996 and the quarter-final in 2004.