Roy Hodgson remained defiant over England’s Euro 2016 prospects after a frustrating 0-0 draw against Slovakia dropped them to second behind Wales in Group B and into the bottom half of the knockout draw.
Hodgson made six changes to the starting line-up and four to the XI that finished last Thursday’s dramatic 2-1 win over Wales in Lens, with Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge rewarded for their goalscoring exploits from the bench as captain Wayne Rooney was rested.
This reshuffled England dominated throughout but could not find a way past Matus Kozacik in the Slovakia goal, while Wales romped to a 3-0 win over a disheveled Russia to claim top spot.
It means Wales will face one of the best third-place finishes at the Parc des Princes on Saturday, while England will face the Group F runner-up in seven days’ time.
That could still be any of Hungary, Portugal, Iceland or Austria, with three of the four matches in the section drawn so far, while Hodgson’s men are now on course for a Saint-Denis quarter-final against hosts France.
“I’m happy to play anyone,” Hodgson told a post-match news conference.
“The first thing for us was to qualify. I think the three performances we merited, we could have topped the group.
“If the second team in Group F happens to be Hungary, we’ll be very happy. We’re happy to play anyone.
“I think whoever plays us, the way we’re playing, will also be looking to have a tough game on their hands.”
On the potential of a mouth-watering showdown with France, Hodgson suggested playing such a talented attacking side might allow his team to shine, having faced three opponents happy to absorb pressure during the round-robin phase.
“I’ve got great respect for France, they’re a very good team,” he said. “But we have to win in the round of 16. I won’t count my chickens. Let’s get that game played first. If we do play them, it’ll be interesting.
“I don’t think France will play in the same way Russia, Wales and Slovakia did. They’ll ask questions when they get the ball and that might give us a chance to show we’re a good counter-attacking team.”
Among the players brought into Hodgson’s XI, Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne was particularly impressive in Saint-Etienne, although the manager was forced to defend Jack Wilshere after the Arsenal midfielder laboured.
“From the questions I realise his performance hasn’t been too highly rated by the people in the media,” he added.
“He’s a very good footballer and a very important member of the squad. If we can stay in the competition beyond the next round you’ll be speaking about him in a different light.
“Can I say that he set the field alight? No, I can’t. If people didn’t think Jack played as he could, I’ll take that as the main negative.”
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