|Slovakia v England, Fifa World Cup qualifier Group F|
|Venue: Trnava Date: Sunday 04 September Start: 17:00 BST|
|Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 live from 17:00 BST; text commentary on the BBC Sport website|
Sam Allardyce has made it his mission to restore the nation’s pride after the debacle of Euro 2016 as his new England era starts in Slovakia on Sunday.
New England manager Allardyce takes charge of his first game after predecessor Roy Hodgson resigned in the immediate aftermath of the humiliating last-16 exit at the hands of Iceland in France.
Allardyce, 61, starts England’s campaign to reach the World Cup in Russia in 2018 with an opening qualifier against a side that held them to a damaging goalless draw in the Euros – and wants to deliver a morale-boosting opening result here in Trnava.
He said: “I can only focus on this game and hopefully the fans who watch on TV and that are here go home very happy or are turning the television off saying England are back on track and looked great.
“Everyone will want us to win. Some will expect us to win but I don’t think it will be that easy based on Slovakia’s record.
“Winning is what we want. If the nation thinks that’s the only thing we can have to make us feel better, we’ll try. But personally, if we get a draw from the most difficult game of the group, I’ll be happy.”
Allardyce defended his new England charges against any claims that they were not hurt by the harrowing experience of Euro 2016 as they rebuild once more after the disappointment of another early exit at a major tournament.
He said: “The nation was proud of the team up to Iceland. It was only that result which turned everyone against them.
“It was a hugely disappointing result for everyone, and none more so than them. Everyone involved in England hurt that night, but the players more than anyone else.
“There’s a perception that they don’t hurt, but they do. The period 2014-16 was a fantastic ride for this young team and it’s something we have to try and achieve again. I just hope they gain in confidence, get there and then do better when they get to in Russia 2018.”
Allardyce relishes task
Allardyce is fulfilling a lifelong ambition of leading England after a managerial career that has taken in clubs such as Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United and Sunderland.
And he admits it was a special moment when he met his England players for the first time as the squad gathered at St George’s Park ahead of this qualifier.
“It’s been a great week for me,” said Allardyce. “Walking into St George’s Park, then the lads coming in and the training week – it’s been really enjoyable.
“I’ve enjoyed watching, meeting up with everyone and the coaches. I think that, hopefully, it goes as well on the pitch as I’ve seen in training, but it’s all about what happens on the pitch on Sunday. It’s the best job for me at this stage of my life.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Having met the players and chatted, I have a very talented squad. In the Euros it was the youngest average age, and this squad can only mature and get better.”
Big Sam backs captain Rooney
Wayne Rooney has revealed his plans to retire from international football after the World Cup in Russia in 2018 but any questions over his position in the side after England’s failure in France were swept away by Allardyce’s decision to confirm the Manchester United forward as captain.
Allardyce has no doubts about the 30-year-old who will win his 116th England cap in Slovakia to take him clear of David Beckham as the all-time record outfield caps holder, although still behind goalkeeper Peter Shilton with 125.
He said: “I’ve seen Wayne play for Manchester United up front, in the hole, down the right, central midfield.
“Does that not show you the credibility of the man and his flexibility? All the managers that he’s had will play him to get him on the field. Instead of sulking and saying ‘I don’t play there, I play there’ he’ll do what he needs to do to play for Manchester United and get in the team.”
Allardyce hopes for settled Hart
England goalkeeper Joe Hart returned from France with his reputation damaged and his status as undisputed number one under threat after a wretched tournament characterised by mistakes that resulted in goals against Wales and, more significantly, in the loss to Iceland in the knockout phase.
He took another hit when new Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola made it clear he would be replaced at club level – but Allardyce is hoping he will be back on an even keel after a loan move to Torino was secured and reassurance that he remains England’s first choice.
“We spoke and it was in the air,” said the England manager. “And then within 24 hours he’d made the decision that he was off to Italy.
“There was a plane landing for him and I said ‘get on it as quick as you can and get back here within 24 hours. It’ll be sorted, it’ll be settled, you’ll be playing in Italy, a fantastic experience for you and your family’.
“It settles him down to play as we know he can. He did play one game for Manchester City and got a tremendous boost from the fans, which was emotional for him, but he’s now looking forward for this game. He’s not thinking about what happened in pre-season. It’s sorted.”
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