Football - Hodgson confident of qualification

Roy Hodgson insists England will not suffer from stage fright when they take on Montenegro in Friday's crunch World Cup qualifier at Wembley.

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Roy Hodgson has every confidence that England will qualify for next year's World Cup

Since his appointment 18 months ago, England manager Hodgson must have had countless dreams about leading his country in Brazil, but with two games left the team are still by no means certain of making the plane to Rio.

The Three Lions top Group H by one point, but the only way that they can guarantee qualification is by beating Montenegro on Friday and Poland four days later.

Many had expected England to breeze through, but so far Hodgson's men have only managed victories against San Marino and Moldova.

Failure to qualify would be seen as a massive failure on Hodgson's part, but if the England manager is feeling the heat then there was no sign of it on Thursday when he addressed the media.

"No," was Hodgson's response when asked if he is worried about failing to qualify.

"We have never discussed not qualifying.

"We are convinced we are a good team, that we are good enough to qualify and that we are going to do the job.

"Words like fear or anxiety or concern haven't really crossed our minds or certainly haven't crossed our lips.

"There will be lots of good teams that don't get there but I am convinced that it won't be us."

Hodgson's optimism is borne out of what he says has been a productive week's training, which has been split between St George's Park and Arsenal's London Colney base.

For once, Hodgson's squad has not been ravaged by injury. Ashley Cole, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were all ruled out before the squad met up on Monday, but since then everyone has trained and is available for selection.

That gives the England manager a plethora of options up front. No longer will England be reliant on the hard-working yet inexperienced Rickie Lambert in attack.

There is a feeling of excitement around the camp regarding the prospect of Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney - who have scored 13 goals between them so far this season - starting in attack.

Hodgson would not confirm whether the two will begin the game, but he made it clear that Sturridge has impressed since joining up with the squad.

Hodgson said: "It's nice to see Daniel Sturridge become so comfortable at an early stage and to strike up a good relationship with the other more senior players that he's been partnering this week. We are delighted."

After frustrating spells at Manchester City and Chelsea, Sturridge has finally found contentment at Liverpool.

The 24-year-old has also experienced a great deal of frustration with England, too.

Fabio Capello handed Sturridge his debut two years ago, but quickly discarded the player.

Hodgson left the striker out of the Euro 2012 squad and injury has restricted his availability ever since.

Sturridge and Rooney have only played together for 33 minutes, but England and Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard is sure the pair will hit it off over the next few days.

"We lacked a cutting edge in Ukraine, but everyone is available now," Gerrard said.

"Everyone knows the form that Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge are in. If they are selected I have every confidence that they can do the damage.

"Daniel has had a few niggles when the squads have been picked in the past and I know he has been frustrated by that.

"He is available now and he is in great form so the stage is set for Daniel to do his stuff.

"If he stays fit and free from injury, Daniel has the ability and talent to be a top England striker for a long, long time.

"He will get an awful lot of caps and goals and I am sure he can add himself to the great names back at the club as well."

While England have a full squad to choose from, Montenegro have been hit with a series of injuries.

Gerrard was in the side that scraped a 1-1 draw in Podgorica in March, though, and he is not under-estimating the importance of Friday's game or the clash with Poland.

"These games are right up there with the most important I have played for England," said Gerrard, who will earn his 106th cap.

"We are at a critical stage. It's up to us to deliver."

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