Roy Hodgson wants England fans to dream of glory and asks journalists to get off Wayne Rooney's back.
World Soccer: What are the realistic expectations for England at Euro 2016?
Roy Hodgson: I will leave the judgement on expectations to others. I believe that every participating team will have high hopes and will share a realistic ambition of reaching the knockout stages of the competition.
Anything can happen once that stage is reached. Football is a sport, not an exact science. So much can influence the result of a match, much of which will certainly be outside the control of a coach. Realism doesn’t enter into the equation – and perhaps it should not. We want fans to dream, to hope and to believe.
A 100 per cent record in qualification is very rare. How proud are you of that achievement?
I’m very proud because consistency of performance is a goal for all coaches. I am perhaps even prouder of my total record with Switzerland, Finland and England – which now stretches to 50 games and only four defeats.
England appear to have a new generation of young talent. Is this the best group of players you have had as national team manager?
I don’t like to compare too much between squads. I leave that to the journalists, pundits and fans. I am happy with the team’s development over the past two years and I, like our supporters, am excited by the emergence of this younger group of players. The Euros will provide the stage for them to showcase the talent which we think they have.
How tough was squad selection?
We have learned a lot from the friendly matches. It was important to give some people a chance to show what they can do at the top level. I’ve had the chance to assess a lot of players before the very difficult decision about the 23.
Sentiment and loyalty are two obstacles one must be constantly aware of. You’ve got to be careful with loyalty and you’ve got to be careful with sentiment.
I hope I’m going to be aware of what people have done over two years: the collective weight of their performances and contribution.
I also hope I’m not going to be tempted just to take someone to the Euros because he’s done that – and then leave someone behind who is much more worthy.
Of course, the situation with player availability can change rapidly. During the spring we had six players rehabilitating from injuries and the toughness of selection may well depend on their recovery situation.
How important is the tournament experience of captain Wayne Rooney to a young England squad?
Wayne has done an excellent job as captain and leader during our qualification campaign and the many prestige friendlies that we have played these last two years.
His international record speaks for itself with more than 50 goals, and we all appreciate and value his experience and contribution. He has also worked very hard at the other side of being an England captain: of needing to stand up, needing to lead from the front, needing to be the first one into a press conference if things haven’t gone well and speak for the team.
Wayne took us through a qualifying group in which we had a complete success with 10 wins out of 10 – and it doesn’t please me too much when it is suggested that the moment he is injured and doesn’t play that he gets jettisoned in some way. He doesn’t deserve that.
Apart from your own country, who are the favourites to win Euro 2016?
Germany, Spain and France.
The tournament has a history of surprise winners like Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004. Who could be dark horses this time?
Of course, anyone can prove to be a dark horse. Belgium will be highly fancied, while Portugal and Austria could go all the way.
Interview by Jim Holden