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England's Roy Hodgson may start Theo Walcott against Ukraine

England winger given all-clear after hamstring problem
• Hodgson excited by return of Wayne Rooney.
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Roy Hodgson is leaning towards picking Theo Walcott for Tuesday evening's decisive Group D fixture against Ukraine, with the England manager urging his players to seize the initiative against the co-hosts to force passage into the quarter-finals.

The management have yet to determine their selection definitively but have discussed at length promoting Walcott, who is recovered from the tight hamstring which prevented him training fully on Sunday, to the starting lineup following his impressive cameo as a substitute against Sweden. The Arsenal winger scored England's equaliser and set up their winner having been introduced on the hour mark, with Hodgson now keen to exploit a perceived lack of pace across Ukraine's backline.England's Roy Hodgson may start Theo Walcott against Ukraine

That would see James Milner, a more disciplined option and a prodigious worker in the draw against France when he ran 1.4km further than any of his team-mates, drop to the bench. Danny Welbeck will be partnered by his Manchester United club-mate Wayne Rooney, who returns after a two-game suspension with Hodgson confident the striker will thrive on his first start in over a month in what will be a ferocious atmosphere at the Donbass Arena.

Ukraine have not won in six previous matches in Donetsk but their own hopes of remaining in the tournament hinge on victory on Tuesday evening.

There remains the possibility that England will top the group, if they better France's result against Sweden, though Hodgson will impress on his players the need to retain recent high standards if they are to prevail. "There have been plenty of surprises already in the tournament and we are not unaware that, with expectations building, we are starting to become the favourites [in this match]," Hodgson said. "But that doesn't change anything. We have got a cup final and we will do the best to play as we have done in the previous two games. I have made it clear to the players that nothing other than that will be good enough.

"If we think this is going to be an easier game for some reason then we are fooling ourselves. The obvious pitfall would be you could be tempted into trying to shut up shop, to drop deeper and deeper and cling on to the result. If you sit back you give the initiative to the opposition, so don't be surprised if they take it. Our aim must be to take the initiative.

"We would all be disappointed now if we had to take the plane home after this game. There would be an enormous disappointment and dissatisfaction. We believe we have done enough to go on but Holland thought they could and Russia thought they could, so it is naive to believe that, just because you think you are able to do, it will be enough. We believe in ourselves and, in some ways ,it's rather nice people back home are hoping and even believing we can do well, and we're giving them something to dream about and cling on to."

Rooney's return offers a considerable boost – the manager has compared his potential impact to that of Pelé at previous World Cups – though there will be reminders to the forward that any pent-up frustration at having missed the first two games must be channelled in a positive manner for the sake of the team. "It won't be just myself making that point," Hodgson said. "I'm sure [the captain] Steven Gerrard and the other players will be keen to remind him that what we require from him is a good team performance.

"We want him to help us and make us a better team. I've been very impressed with the way he has gone about his work in training, talking to some of the younger players, and playing a major part as one of the senior players in the group. I don't have any fears in that respect. He knows how important the occasion is, not just for himself but more importantly he knows how important it is for his team-mates."

Rooney's definite return contrasts markedly with the doubts nagging at the Ukraine coach, Oleh Blokhin, over the availability of his talismanic forward and captain, Andriy Shevchenko. The 35-year-old was rated "50-50" on Monday night with his knee still swollen after he was kicked in both of his side's group games. It would be a major surprise if the former Milan and Chelsea striker did not feature, though Blokhin has thrust England forward as clear favourites to progress.

"We should consider England as leaders in the European Championship," he said. "They also have problems because if they lose it will be unexpected but it's not the same for us. The England team will be more nervous. They are expected to play in the final. We have nothing to lose."




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