Roy Hodgson predicts England’s opponents in the knockout stages of Euro 2016 will take the game to his side, presenting a new and welcome challenge.
In all three Group B matches, against Russia, Wales and Slovakia, England shouldered the bulk of the attacking burden but found themselves frequently unable to turn possession into goals.
A thrilling last-minute win over eventual group winners Wales was sandwiched between two disappointing draws against defence-minded opponents but the manager suspects things may be different from now on.
Portugal, Iceland, Hungary or Austria await in the last 16, with England learning their fate by Wednesday, while a possible meeting with hosts France looms for the quarter-finalists.
“The way we are playing at the moment, the way we’re dominating games, we aren’t really frightened of anybody,” said Hodgson.
“To be honest it might even suit us if we play a stronger team that actually comes to beat us rather than trying to stop us scoring.
“That might even work in our favour because we might find some space we can actually exploit behind the defence.
“That’s something we haven’t really been able to do in the three games. We’ve had to play in front of the defence because they’ve played with so many men in defensive positions.”
Hodgson refused to directly countenance a last-eight match-up with Les Bleus, knowing that neither his side nor their putative opponents are guaranteed to progress.
“First of all we need to win in the round of 16. It’s not something that, quite frankly, I’ll be considering yet,” he said of the possibility.
“I don’t count my chickens. Let’s get the round of 16 game played first. But if we do get them, it’ll be interesting. I have great respect for the French team.
“I don’t think France will play the same way as Russia, Wales and Slovakia.
“They’ll be asking questions of us when they get the ball, and we might be able to show we are quite a good counter-attacking team when teams try and play against us.”
England will surely be working hard on their final balls and finishing in the days between now and their next match in Nice on Monday.
With five specialist strikers – including Wayne Rooney, who has been used further back as a midfield playmaker thus far – three goals from three dominant performances is a poor return.
Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana have not looked clinical in front of goal, while Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge were brilliant off the bench but quieter from the off against Slovakia.
They currently lead the tournament statistics in terms of shots on goal, with 65, though just 15 of those have been on target.
Hodgson turned the equation on its head, suggesting the opposition had thus far been outstandingly resilient – true, at least, in the case of Russia goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and his Slovak counterpart Matus Kozacik.
“From the very first minute to the last, we peppered the Slovakian goal with shots, we peppered them with crosses, our passing was good, our work-rate was good, our effort was good. It just didn’t fall for us,” bemoaned the England coach.
“I think one of these days we’re going to make it very uncomfortable for someone because these chances will go in and we won’t find goalkeepers and defenders in such splendid defensive form.”