The heat is on for England… but weather, flights and flies do not bother boss Hodgson
23:33 GMT, 10 June 2012
As 40 days turned to 40 nights in the evening sun here in Donetsk, Roy Hodgson was confronted by an almost biblical scene inside the ultra-modern Donbass Arena.
It was not just the intense heat, which could still be hovering around 90 degrees come Monday's kick-off at 7pm local time.
Scorcher: England's players take a break from training
It was the insects, not quite a swarm of locusts but millions upon millions of blood-sucking midges, that had Hodgson and his England players running for the repellent spray.
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Bullish: Gerrard says England could not be better prepared
Hodgson and Steven Gerrard nevertheless insisted that nothing would deter them from their task.
'We could not be better prepared,' said England's captain.
But, after four days in a
considerably cooler Krakow, it must have felt like arriving in an alien
land on Sunday – a land, more worryingly, that has been occupied by
France since last week.
we are talking suicidal, and it was a word both Hodgson and Gerrard
used on Sunday, it could be argued that it was suicidal to stay in
Poland when their group games are in Ukraine.
Laurent Blanc said as much last month.
In fairness to the FA, they have been a little unlucky.
were prepared to trade the extra travelling time for the more
comfortable surroundings of their Polish base but the heatwave here in
Donetsk has caught them by surprise.
The records will reveal the average temperatures for June in Krakow and Donetsk are much the same; in the low 70s.
by a 'facetious' Frenchman who dared ask if England were a major
footballing nation, Hodgson responded last night by delivering something
of a history lesson and history tells us that punishing heat has not
always proved England's undoing.
Knees up: John Terry warms up for France clash
England have melted in the sun in the past but they beat the French in Bilbao in 1982, Tunisia in Marseille in 1998 and Switzerland in Coimbra in 2004.
None of this, of course, was Hodgson's doing. The plans were put in place by Fabio Capello and the FA prior to his arrival.
But credit to the new England manager for backing his employers.
'The trip has been very well planned,' he said. 'I like being in Krakow. I'm convinced our performances will not suffer as a result.'
You could sense from Hodgson and Gerrard that they are itching for their campaign to begin.
Making light of problems: Roy Hodgson has not lost his sense of humour
There was an amusing moment with Hodgson when a reporter listed the reasons why tonight could be regarded as rather daunting for his team.
The fact that Wayne Rooney was suspended, the fact that he has lost so many players to injury, the fact that he has had so little time in the job; the fact, for heaven's sake, that France are undefeated in 21 games.
'Apart from all that, things are looking quite good,' said Hodgson with a smile.
'It is a stern challenge but we have a team full of players who are major stars in their own teams.'
They will be organised this evening to defend first and attack second; to approach this game in a manner that actually suits the draining conditions.
Not in good shape: France's defender Philippe Mexes
Key to it, of course, is not conceding possession cheaply and Gerrard acknowledged as much.
'Against the top teams we have to be better at keeping the ball,' he said while insisting the heat 'would be the same for both teams'.
As dangerous as they might be going forward, France are vulnerable in defence.
They are particularly worried about Philippe Mexes, whom they suggest is not in great shape, and his central defensive partner, Adil Rami.
For Danny Welbeck and his colleagues in the England attack, that has to be the focus of their attention.
Striking at the heart of French defence: Danny Welbeck (left) and Jermain Defoe
In terms of inspiration, there were plenty of rousing words from the manager and his captain last night.
'It's a fantastic occasion for me to sit on the bench and watch an England team I'm responsible for,' said Hodgson with pride.
Fair play to him for insisting that this is his team.
'It's got to be,' he said. His response to the aforementioned French journalist was superb.
'How good we are as a nation, whether we're playing you French or anyone else, will always be decided on the field of play,' he said.
Ready to rumble: Steven Gerrard fighting fit for the France clash
In the written media briefing that then followed, Hodgson expanded on his answer.
'Of course we feel the weight of history,' he said.
'It was a facetious question. But there's a little element of truth in what he was saying.
'There's nothing we can do to take that weight of four shoulders except to do what Steven was talking about and make certain we embrace the tournament.'
Was he happy with the progress he has made in such a short period 'It seems like a lot more than 40 days,' he said.
Cool dudes: The new French fashion trend as modelled by Adil Rami,
Philippe Mexes and Karim Benzema are cryo jackets packed with ice
to control body temperatures in the heat
'The days have been so intensive but I am happy with what we have achieved. I don't think the players could have worked harder for me to become a team.
'Last night Blanc was a little sniffy about England's style.
'I hope the team that plays the most football wins,' he said with a touch of arrogance.
But the France manager also acknowledged the considerable challenge that Hodgson has faced since joining the FA.
Hodgson has kept it simple and tried to play to England's strengths, working tirelessly to deliver a team ready for '90 minutes on stage'.
Injury worry: Scott Parker put through his paces
One nagging concern beyond the fitness of Scott Parker is the need to play John Terry on the right of central defence in the absence of Gary Cahill when he is far happier on the left next to Ashley Cole.
But, in the opinion of this observer, Hodgson is taking the right approach; it makes sense and it might just surprise a few people – starting with the French.