Switzerland won't be easy for England
SWITZERLAND v ENGLAND
England's qualifying campaign begins tomorrow morning (Singapore time), and it will begin the hard way.
While Roy Hodgson's team have landed in an easy group, even by the low standards of this new, expanded tournament, there is nothing easy about Switzerland.
England struggled in the World Cup, something Hodgson acknowledged in a bad-tempered press conference last week, but the Swiss gave a respectable account of themselves.
Under legendary manager Ottmar Hitzfeld, they were taken apart by France, but they beat Ecuador and Honduras and took Argentina to the very brink of a penalty shoot-out before they were undone at the last.
With players like Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, there's no lack of quality. Switzerland are an intelligent, technically accomplished side.
New manager Vladimir Petkovic has much to live up to, but he was well liked at Lazio before the owners sacked him, allegedly for negotiating a deal with the Swiss football association behind their back.
This is not a scenario in which England have to be wary of slipping up. This is a scenario where England are the underdogs.
Hodgson needs a good result or, at the very least, a positive performance. The lethargic, underwhelming display against Norway has been widely criticised and Hodgson's behaviour afterwards only exacerbated the ill feeling of his detractors.
There is a familiar feel to the barbs: England are dull, they are old fashioned, they lack intensity and they struggle to change games. These are the same accusations faced by Fabio Capello, Steve McClaren and Sven Goran Eriksson, which suggests that Hodgson may not be the only issue.
He will not be aided by the news that Daniel Sturridge is out with a thigh injury. Sturridge's pace and invention will not be easily replaced. But there is a chance that this could work in Hodgson's favour.
With the Liverpool man out of the reckoning, Hodgson can push Wayne Rooney into the central striking role. His new captain was poor against Norway, slowing the game down in the final third and struggling to control the ball. As a No. 10, he left much to be desired.
He may prove a more effective centre forward. That would allow Raheem Sterling to play at the point of the midfield, as he does with such success for Liverpool, and for Danny Welbeck to play off the left.
Hodgson has also stated that tomorrow's game will not prove critical.
"We want to get off to a good start," he said. "We want to play well and we want to win but if it doesn't happen, it won't necessarily impact on 2016.
"I wouldn't dream of suggesting to my players that we have to win this one because we need to dispel the air of negativity that has surrounded us since the World Cup."
He's certainly correct in concluding that this game will not decide the group. England can qualify by finishing second, or even by finishing third and progressing through the play-offs. Even in their reduced state, they should be able to beat the likes of Slovenia and Estonia.
But, for all that, this will be Hodgson's most crucial game since he took the England job in 2012. A win away against the strongest team in the group will shoo the wolves from the door and preserve his status - potential disasters against the likes of Lithuania notwithstanding - until the tournament itself begins in 2016.
A draw might attract the ire of the media, but would constitute a perfectly good result. But a defeat will only intensify the attacks on Hodgson. If Switzerland win, as they should, expect a furious reaction and a fallout that the manager will struggle to survive.
England will qualify for the European Championship, the group are too easy for failure to be an option. But don't expect that to make Hodgson's life any easier.
Make no mistake. He needs a result.
Roy Hodgson was coach of Switzerland from 1992 to 1995. He guided them to the last 16 of the 1994 World Cup and qualification for Euro 1996.
WELBECK: I CAN BE PROLIFIC
FOLLOW ME: Striker Danny Welbeck (far left) leading the Three Lions' training. PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP
Danny Welbeck insists he has what it takes to be a prolific scorer for club and country.
The 23-year-old forward, who joined Arsenal from Manchester United on transfer deadline day, is set to start England's opening Euro 2016 qualifier against Switzerland after first-choice striker Daniel Sturridge suffered a thigh injury last week.
Welbeck's scoring record is somewhat underwhelming - 29 goals in 142 games for Manchester United and eight in 27 for the national team - but he believes he can improve his goals-to-games ratio, especially if he plays in his favoured centre-forward position.
"I prefer to play as a centre forward," he said.
"We'll see (about his scoring rate) when I get my opportunity to do that.
"I've never had the opportunity to get a consistent run of games as a No. 9, but have faith in my ability."
With the international retirement of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, Welbeck now finds himself among the most senior members of Roy Hodgson's England squad and he admits it is time for his game to reach its maturity.
He said: "I'm no longer a young player. There are a lot of younger players than me in the squad, by quite a few years.
"It's good to see that youngsters are being given the opportunity to play in the national side. You see in training the outstanding talent they've got and how it can have a massive impact.
"Coming to this stage of my career, I really want to push on and be the best I can be."
Welbeck has the support of Three Lions skipper Wayne Rooney, who said: "Danny is a lively player, an impact player.
"He is quick, he can score goals and I am sure with him getting the move to Arsenal now - hopefully he can play up front for Arsenal - that will really help him with England.
"He is a Manchester lad and I spoke to him a few times. It was a really tough decision for him to move but, for his professional career, he felt he had to.
"Hopefully he can get a few games up front which would benefit him for England." - PA Sport.