Roy Hodgson insists England’s players are not “cowed” by the prospect of meeting a France side on a 21-game unbeaten run in their opening Euro 2012 clash.
The French have been revitalised under Laurent Blanc following the unrest surrounding the squad at the 2010 World Cup and defeated England 2-1 in a friendly at Wembley 18 months ago.
But head coach Hodgson has faith in the ability of his players to do themselves justice tonight and defy being written off in some quarters.
He said: “The players think we can beat France. There’s no question about that. There’s no fear in that respect.
“There’s healthy respect for the team, as they deserve to have. We know their players and their qualities. We come across them every week and you just respect someone if you go 21 matches unbeaten.
“In any league, 21 matches unbeaten is an achievement. But I don’t get the feeling the players are cowed by the task. They’re more motivated in a way.”
Hodgson added: “It may be quite nice for them to go into a game where people are saying ‘it will be tough and France are a better team than you’.
“Quite often they go into games and people say ‘you’ve got to beat these’. That’s the kind of pressure a lot of our players are under.
“I would think they’ll probably quite enjoy the fact that the ‘favourite’ position is now being taken from us and given to France. We know we can give them a good game, no question.”
Hodgson is aware he is thought of as a cautious coach, but knows ultimately results are what matter.
He said: “If you are lucky enough to work with a team that can defend well and not concede many goals, then quite often you will be called a cautious coach, I suppose.
“But the important thing is to win matches and we all know you’ve got to be one hell of a team at this top level.
“If your ability to defend is so poor you are likely to concede two, three, four goals a game, you have to have players on your team who are certain to score three, four, five every game to get you out of mischief.
“The bottom line is I’m a pragmatic coach in the sense that I like to win and I know I can’t win by asking my forwards to score three of four goals.”
Hodgson knows England will be expected to progress to at least the quarter-finals despite the lower expectation levels.
He said: “What is a success? I haven’t set targets like that. So many targets are set for you, why bother to set them yourself?
“I’m not prepared to say what my goal is. People expect us to do well. People would still be very disappointed if we don’t get through the group stages, even if expectations are lower.
“If we do get through the group stages and get knocked out in the quarter-finals, they’ll still be disappointed so what’s the point of me talking about it?”
Hodgson has still to finalise his side, although he confirmed the back four, two central midfielders and Ashley Young had been decided upon.
He said: “The choice of wide midfielders and the other centre-forward to partner Ashley Young, they’re the ones I’ve had to give thought to.
“We do have competition in those places, and furthermore we don’t necessarily have people - due to their experience - who are nailed on in those positions.
“They’re people holding their hand up and saying ‘pick me’. The back four and two central midfielders are those that shout at me ‘you’ve got to put me in the team’.”