England manager Roy Hodgson has warned his stars not to use the poor quality pitch in Chisinau as an excuse to deliver a lacklustre display in their opening World Cup qualifier against Moldova tomorrow.
Hodgson knows England’s players will be tested by the Zimbru Stadium surface, which bares no comparison with the carefully tended pitches in Premier League grounds and prompted even Moldova assistant manager Ion Testemitanu to admit it was not in the best condition. But he refuses to accept that as a reason for England to underachieve as they begin their bid to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“I’m pretty sure that I have a very experienced group of players and they’ll have played on many pitches, and I really don’t envisage any particular problems there,” Hodgson said yesterday.
“It’s up to us to deal with whatever playing surface we play on. I’m pretty sure the Moldovan national team want to play on the best possible surface they can.”
With Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney, Adam Johnson and Andy Carroll all ruled out of the Moldova trip due to injury, Hodgson won’t be able to pick his strongest side tomorrow, but he believes whatever team he sends out should still be good enough to take the points.
“It's a blow to lose players but we chose a large squad fortunately, so I’m still happy with the players that remain with us and we certainly have more than the 11 we’ll pick to play the game,” he said.
But, while Hodgson is confident of victory, he has no intention of demanding a goal-spree against the Group H minnows because he knows that would risk allowing the hosts to punish them on the break.
“At the moment goal difference doesn’t come into it,” he said. “At the moment it’s important to try and get points on the board and try and get off to a good start.
“They are going to be very well organised, very disciplined in defence. We’re aware that they are — from the games we’ve studied — a team that’s capable of playing very well and causing some problems. We’re not going to underestimate them.”
England captain Steven Gerrard echoed Hodgson’s belief that the win is all that matters and the Liverpool star expects his team to be able to unlock the Moldovan defence even if they sit back for long periods.
“It can be difficult but the good thing is that in our squad we’ve got players who are used to that in the Premier League — we play for top teams and you come up against teams that put 11 men behind the ball,” he said. “As long as we’re patient and don't force the issue, it doesn’t matter when we score or how we win — as long as we do. It breeds confidence for the team and the squad.”