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Jun 6, 2014

Hodgson to delay Ox fitness decision

England manager Roy Hodgson is ready to gamble on the fitness of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the hope he can play a full part in the World Cup knockout stages.

Oxlade-Chamberlain suffered knee ligament damage in England's 2-2 friendly draw with Ecuador on Wednesday and is facing around two weeks on the sidelines. That is likely to rule him out of England's first two Group D games against Italy and Uruguay and leave him desperately short of match fitness for matches that follow, with Costa Rica the only other guaranteed opposition unless Hodgson's side go through.

"There's no change,'' he said of Oxlade-Chamberlain's situation ahead of Saturday's warm-up match against Honduras in Miami. "He's been working with the physios the last couple of days, we will monitor and keep our fingers crossed that it's not too serious and that he will recover in time to take part in this World Cup.''

Hodgson has found himself in a difficult position over Oxlade-Chamberlain, having picked a player for the squad who struggled with injury all last season and only made his first start since early April this week.

He also has no like-for-like replacement among the players he has put on standby to cover for injuries, with Manchester United midfielders Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, Everton defender John Stones and Liverpool full-back Jon Flanagan the players on the reserve list along with Andy Carroll, of West Ham, and Toronto's Jermain Defoe.

England have gambled with key players and injury at major tournaments before, with Wayne Rooney being a notable example. Few pundits give Hodgson's side much hope of emerging from their group, so to keep a player in the squad who may have no chance of playing is a big risk which could backfire by increasing the pressure on others, never mind the impact it would have if further injuries are sustained.

However, having lost Tottenham's Andros Townsend and Arsenal's Theo Walcott to injury before the squad was picked, the manager appears desperate for Oxlade-Chamberlain to come through.

Asked when he would need to make a decision on Oxlade-Chamberlain, Hodgson added: "It won't be before we go to Brazil. "It will be the very, very last moment available to us, which on my understanding is 24 hours before we play the first game. He's working very hard, let's see and hope it's not that serious.

"He's in a positive frame of mind - it was a major blow and he was playing so well. You can imagine how sad he is but his mood is good.

"We spent so much time discussing this squad over the last two months that it won't be difficult to coming up with the right solution [in replacement] but there is no need to consider that yet.''

Townsend, talking to The Sun, indicated Hodgson's gamble on Oxlade-Chamberlain is one worth taking.

"There is nothing more painful in the game than getting sidelined for the world's biggest tournament," Townsend said. "I know this from my own bitter experience.

"When I injured my ankle - ruling me out of Brazil - I was gutted and down in the dumps. It took a while to come to terms with it. So I can imagine how worried Alex must be now. I hope that he will be back to fitness for the later group matches. He is one of the secret weapons Roy Hodgson has to unleash in Brazil."

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