- Associated Press - Sunday, June 19, 2016

SAINT-ETIENNE, France (AP) - The English know the pitfalls of failing to top their group at a major tournament. They just have to rewind 18 years.

Then, at the 1998 World Cup, England was handed a last-16 match against the mighty Argentina after finishing in second place in its group.

The rest has gone down in English soccer lore: Michael Owen’s wonder goal that started inside his own half. David Beckham’s red card for kicking Diego Simeone. Yet more heartache in a penalty shootout.

That all happened inside Stade Geoffroy Guichard in Saint-Etienne, and England returns to the central French city on Monday bidding to secure first place in its European Championship group.

A point is all the team requires against Slovakia on Monday to reach the knockout stage, but a win will see England finish at the top - and earn the team a last-16 match in Paris close to its training base. England leads Group B with four points, one more than Wales and Slovakia.

“We’d like to win the group. If that means Paris, that’s good,” England coach Roy Hodgson said Sunday. “But we don’t want to win the group necessarily because it’s Paris and closer to our base camp. We want to win the group because it means we’ll play against a third-place team rather than second or first.

“Our motivation to win is there for all to see.”

More motivation for Hodgson arrived in the form of comments from his boss, Greg Dyke. The outgoing chairman of the Football Association said earlier Sunday that Hodgson could get his wish of a new contract even if England doesn’t reach the semifinals.

“What we have said is if we have done well and we played well, then I think he will be renewed,” Dyke told BBC radio. “Doing well? Semifinals would be great; quarterfinals if we play well and meet one of the best sides and unfortunately lost or went out on penalties, something like that.”

The timing of Dyke’s comments was surprising, but Hodgson said it wasn’t wise to read too much into them.

“Success or not success depends on other things,” said Hodgson, who has been in charge since 2012. “We could play badly and sneak our way through to what people think is a successful position, or play quite well and fall foul of a bad refereeing decision, an injury or something that happens in football, like against Russia (in England’s first match at Euro 2016) … does it mean your team has done badly because they concede (an equalizer) in the 92nd minute after playing well?”

The big talking point in England ahead of the game against Slovakia is whether Hodgson will make changes to his starting team.

Halftime substitutes Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge both scored as England rallied to beat Wales 2-1 on Thursday and they could come into the team at the expense of the players they replaced in Lens - Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling.

Sterling is struggling for form, while Kane appears to be lacking sharpness after a long season with Tottenham.

“I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary,” Hodgson said of making changes. “The players are in good shape. It wouldn’t be a problem if I wanted to keep the same side, but there are players who would like to play and have been knocking on the door to play.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide