With tomorrow’s opening Group D fixture against France set to kick off at 18.00CET, temperatures are likely to be in excess of 30C inside the Donbass Arena, but in his first pre-match press conference at a major international tournament as England manager, Roy Hodgson was in no mood for excuses.
“Conditions will be the same for both teams, so our emphasis has to be purely on our play,” said the 64-year-old, instead focusing on what would be a “massive occasion” for him personally. “The players have worked very hard and we’re really excited that the tournament is beginning in earnest. It’s a privilege for me to sit on the bench and watch an England team I manage play.”
Steven Gerrard, who is set to captain his country at a major finals for the first time, confirmed that he and the team “won’t be using the heat or conditions as an excuse” and likened the two-hour flight east to a “normal European away game which most of us are used to”.
Indeed, despite the initial concerns, the journeys to and from Ukraine are unlikely to prove too much of a disadvantage. The heat, however, may well do. Not because England’s players are any more susceptible to the sun than the French, but because of the way they are expected to play.
So far under Hodgson, England have been solid tactically, giving little away at the back but conceding the majority of possession to their opponents. Norway enjoyed decent spells on the ball in Oslo late last month, while Belgium ran the show for long periods at Wembley last weekend.
England ran out 1-0 victors in both those games and would undoubtedly take the same outcome against France. However, the concern is that Laurent Blanc’s side, unbeaten in their last 21, are a level higher in terms of quality and if England allow Les Bleus even more of the ball than they did Belgium, it could turn into an exhausting evening’s work in the stifling Donetsk heat.