LONDON (AFP) – Missing Daniel Sturridge and stung by recent media criticism, England begin their 2016 European Championship qualifying campaign on Monday with a perilous away game against chief Group E rivals Switzerland.
England returned to action after their dismal group-phase exit at the World Cup with a lacklustre 1-0 friendly win over Norway on Wednesday, and despite the victory, pessimism continues to prevail.
A record low crowd for the new Wembley Stadium of 40,181 turned out for the game, and the mood around the team darkened further on Friday when it was revealed that Sturridge will miss the trip to Basel due to injury.
The bloated new format of the European Championship means that England can afford to finish behind Switzerland in their group and still qualify, but defeat at St Jakob-Park would put further pressure on manager Roy Hodgson.
Monday’s game should have been a triumphant return for the well-travelled 67-year-old, who guided Switzerland to the World Cup for the first time in 28 years when he led them to the 1994 tournament in the United States.
But, instead, the former Liverpool manager finds himself with his back against the the wall, having lost his temper and sworn at journalists during a tetchy briefing after the Norway game.
Midfielder Jack Wilshere accepts that recent performances have not lived up to expectations, but believes a positive display against Vladimir Petkovic’s Switzerland would alleviate the doom and gloom.
“Going over to Switzerland is a tough game, but we know if we put in the performance and get the result, the fans are going to come back on our side,” said the Arsenal midfielder.
Wilshere has also called for a more realistic perspective on England’s performance at the World Cup in Brazil, where Hodgson side’s limped out without a single victory to their name.
“If people analysed it a bit more, they would have been a bit kinder. There were just a few individual errors and a few lapses in concentration, but at that level that is what you are going to get,” he said.
“When you are playing against (Mario) Balotelli and (Luis) Suarez, that is what you are going to get. They are going to punish you, and they did.
“But if you look at the games, we had more positives than people give us credit for.”
While Sturridge’s absence with a thigh injury is a blow for England, the Liverpool striker’s likely replacement, Arsenal new boy Danny Welbeck, impressed as a second-half substitute against Norway.