England faces Belgium in last Euro warmup

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WEMBLEY, England (AP) -Roy Hodgson will have little time to savor his Wembley debut as England coach against Belgium on Saturday when his team attempts to overcome a week dominated by injuries in its final friendly ahead of the European Championship.

Inside 72 hours, central midfielders Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard were both forced out of the squad with injuries, derailing Hodgson's plans just weeks into the job.

"Those two are big players for the team and they will be missed," said captain Steven Gerrard, who is also a central midfielder. "As a group we have to share the responsibility around and maybe it might alter my position slightly, but we will have to wait and see what the manager decides to do.

"I know Roy likes to play a system where he likes his midfielders to be slightly more disciplined than we are used to at our clubs but we have to adapt to that."

With the Euro 2012 opener against France on June 11, Hodgson now has little time to assess his options for a tournament where English expectations are at an usually low ebb.

"I have to try to get that balance right between making certain the players that will start against France (in the Euro 2012 opener) get more time on the field but without taking time perhaps from other players that I want to look at," Hodgson said Friday.

Gerrard will start in central midfield alongside Scott Parker, whose own fitness has been worrying Hodgson. The Tottenham midfielder missed the last four matches of the Premier League season with an Achilles injury and he is still lacking full sharpness and mobility.

"We are quite happy that by the time we play France, people will be in good physical shape," Hodgson said.

Having being drafted into the 23-man squad to replace Lampard, Jordan Henderson is likely to feature against Belgium.

Gerrard, who plays alongside Henderson at Liverpool, has no doubts that Henderson can perform at the international level despite struggling during his first season at Anfield since joining from Sunderland.

"Jordan is a very exciting player, one for the future, and it is a great opportunity for him," Gerrard said. "What people have got to understand is that he is still very young in football terms. He is 21, he will gain experience, he will gain confidence, he will gain belief and he will improve and get stronger.

"I was 21 and was nowhere near the finished article. I can guarantee you that, if the public are criticizing Jordan, they will change their opinion of him very soon. He will prove them wrong. He is good enough to do it."

Hodgson could also take another look at the Andy Carroll-Ashley Young forward partnership in preparation for Wayne Rooney's suspension in the first two group stage matches.

"I still have to wrestle ... with the problem with what to do in the wide areas and up front," Hodgson said.

The home fans will get a chance to look at the talented Belgium players who failed to qualify for Euro 2012, including winger Eden Hazard, who has indicated that he is joining European champion Chelsea.

"Chelsea have done very well to sign a player of his caliber," Gerrard said. "He is a world class player and I'm sure he will set the Premier League alight."

The game will also feature an element of nostalgia as former captain David Beckham and four other England centurions receive special UEFA awards.

Hawk-Eye goal-line technology will also be tested at Wembley ahead of a vote in July by football's rule-making body on whether it can be sanctioned for use in competitive matches.

"It is another advance technologically and one which I hope will prove successful and will at least banish some of the ghosts of the past," Hodgson said.

English minds are already fixed on the Euro 2012 opener after Laurent Blanc's France side extended its unbeaten run to 20 matches in a 2-0 victory over Serbia on Thursday.

"They looked very strong," Gerrard said. "We have a lot of respect for them but they are not unbeatable."

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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