History weighs down on England

England launch their Euro 2012 quest in Donetsk on Monday night with manager Roy Hodgson admitting his players can feel the weight of history on their shoulders.

Eurosport

Not since 1966 have England won a major tournament, a fact repeated so often it has almost become a parody of itself. Even the opposition were joining in at the Donbass Arena as a French journalist used England's miserable record since that glorious Wembley day to question whether they were a major football power.

"Of course we feel the weight of history," said Hodgson. "It was a facetious question but there was a little element of truth in what he was saying. As a top nation we haven't won as many tournaments as we should or done as well as we should."

He continued: "We all feel that weight and there's nothing we can do to take it off our shoulders except make certain we embrace the tournament, that we are not afraid of it and that we believe in ourselves.

"It's a fact of life. But I think before the very good French period we could have levelled a similar accusation against them."

It seemed England's feathers were ruffled by that major power jibe.

"You didn't actually need to remind me," Hodgson said of England's World Cup win. "That has crossed my mind on one or two occasions."

Skipper Steven Gerrard was even more forthright.

"Questions like that are more of a motivation," he said. "I don't see them as something to react to or an accusation.

"I have belief in my team-mates. I see it in training, I see it week in, week out in the Premier League."

Laurent Blanc believes France are Euro 2012 outsiders despite a 21-game unbeaten run and confidence being sky.

Head coach Blanc has masterminded the lengthy run without defeat stretching back nearly two years in the aftermath of the squad unrest which blighted their 2010 World Cup campaign.

But he is adamant France are no longer a major power and dismisses the theory they are favourites to qualify from a group which also contains Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine. He said: "Essentially we've stored up a lot of confidence recently. The side really needed some over the recent friendly games but they've also been important in terms of individuals."

He added: "Certain players have gained in confidence, and that's great for the side and the squad.

"But the French team don't have the same ambitions as Spain or Germany at the start of these European Championships. France, in terms of their results over the last few years, have not allowed us to retain our place in European or world football.

"People say I often bring this up, but I don't do that because I like to. It's the reality. People say we're favourites in the group, but I don't agree with that.

"We were in the fourth pot in the draw, and that means something. It's an open group. France, England, Ukraine and Sweden can all legitimately believe they can get into the latter stages."

Blanc is keen to play down the significance of the meeting with Hodgson's team in Donetsk.

He said: "In terms of the importance of games, everyone says the first game is important. We know it's important for both these sides, but it won't be decisive.

"Of course it's better to manage it well, but the European Championships won't end for a team after this match. The other two matches will be even more important."

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