Euro cull looms as fitness in question

England manager Roy Hodgson and Daniel Sturridge during a training session in Berlin last week. Sturridge, who began the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign as England's first-choice striker, is running out of time to prove his fitness.
England manager Roy Hodgson and Daniel Sturridge during a training session in Berlin last week. Sturridge, who began the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign as England's first-choice striker, is running out of time to prove his fitness. PHOTO: REUTERS

Countdown crucial for Sturridge as Hodgson ready to whittle England squad down to 23

LONDON • Daniel Sturridge has been given two more training sessions to prove his fitness and secure a place in Roy Hodgson's 23-man squad for the European Championship.

The England manager will be finalising his squad this afternoon, when he is planning to give the two players who will be culled from his existing party the bad news in person.

Fabian Delph, the Manchester City midfielder, left the group and was placed on the standby list last week because of his groin injury, which simplified the task for Hodgson.

Marcus Rashford's record-breaking debut against Australia on Friday and his own injury problems have left Sturridge vulnerable to being omitted from the tournament, which would be a significant comedown as he began the qualifying campaign as England's first-choice striker.

The 26-year-old did not consider himself fit enough to play against Australia because of a calf problem and watched from the bench as Rashford became England's youngest-ever goal-scoring debutant after just 138 seconds to all but clinch his place in the squad.

Hodgson could take Rashford and Sturridge to France, along with Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, who are guaranteed to make the squad, although he wants more evidence of the latter's fitness before taking the bold move to select five strikers.

Sturridge has played only a bit part in two training sessions since playing in the Europa League final for Liverpool 12 days ago.

England begin their campaign against Russia in Marseilles a week on Saturday and Hodgson wants a fully fit squad to pick from.

If Sturridge and Rashford are both selected by Hodgson, then two players out of Danny Drinkwater, Ross Barkley and Andros Townsend are likely to miss out.

With Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson having proved their fitness in the friendlies against Turkey and Australia, there is likely to be no room for Drinkwater, which would leave a straight choice between Barkley and Townsend.

The Everton midfielder has been a constant presence in Hodgson's squad since he made his debut against Moldova in a World Cup qualifier three years ago, but Townsend was more impressive when the pair came on against Australia and his pace provides an extra option.

Chris Smalling is expected to be fit to train after coming off with cramp against Australia, and Gary Cahill's fitness remains a concern as the Chelsea defender requires painkilling injections to play because of a hip problem.

Meanwhile, Hodgson's ability to bring harmony to a squad heading into a major tournament was called into question by Rio Ferdinand.

The former Manchester United defender said that, of the six England managers he worked with, including the present incumbent, only Glenn Hoddle was able to foster unity and belief in the squad.

"Whatever way he does it, it is down to the manager to create that environment of togetherness," said Ferdinand, who will be a pundit for the BBC in France.

"Hodgson hasn't so far but this is a great opportunity for him. To go forward the players need an environment where there is genuine belief and togetherness to be successful.

"Hoddle was good at that. He had a team (that was) starting to believe in his methods. Only Hoddle has done that of all the managers I've worked with. All the others - no chance."

Ferdinand also dismissed England's chances of winning the tournament.

"Are you surprised?" he said.

"We cannot sit here right now and say they are potential winners. If they win it like Leicester won the Premier League it will be a great achievement, but I don't think there is anything to suggest they are potential winners when you look at other teams.

"This is an inexperienced England squad."

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2016, with the headline 'Euro cull looms as fitness in question'. Print Edition | Subscribe