The national team are top of their section but with Montenegro to play San Marino next month and then Moldova in March, England may be two points adrift of their hosts when they visit Podgorica that month. More worrying have been the two displays mustered against fellow contenders, with the unconvincing draw in Poland on Wednesday following a similar score against Ukraine at Wembley last month.
Asked if he accepted there were three or four teams now in contention in what had initially appeared a straightforward group, Hodgson said: "Yes, I do. There's nothing wrong with that. The good thing is that if it is a dog fight, we know we can stay and take part in a dog fight. We took part in a few during the Euros and we certainly dug in against Poland and showed the right sort of character and the right type of determination.
"If it's a dog fight, then it's a dog fight. There will be some groups where one team shoots away and others where it's going to be quite close to the end. I still think that we will improve. We have a lot of younger players who are still finding their way at international level and we have a few who are to come back. If you'd said to me, given the circumstances, that we'd have eight points and been unbeaten, I'd have been happy to accept that."
That much sounded surprising, the "circumstances" presumably the postponement and pitch in Warsaw, given six of those points were secured from 5-0 thumpings of Moldova and San Marino, ranked 145th and 207th in the world respectively. Indeed, neither Ukraine nor Poland, co-hosts at Euro 2012 and rated 42nd and 54th, boast notable pedigree at this level.
In contrast to the likes of Group I, where France (ranked 13) are competing with Spain (1st) for one automatic qualifying place, or Group F – which contains Portugal (ranked 3) and Russia (12) – England's section appears far from onerous.
Hodgson, whose team are ranked fifth in the world, pointed to an 11-match unbeaten start to his tenure – a statistic that ignores the elimination on penalties by Italy in the quarter-final of Euro 2012 – as cause for optimism. "It would've been lovely to have got off to a flier and be sitting here with 12 points. But you don't get what you want by asking for it," said Hodgson. "You get what you want by playing for it. Ukraine played very well at Wembley and deserved their point. So did Poland [on Wednesday]. We've got to be disappointed because we couldn't produce a good enough performance in those games to get six points.
"But I still think you'll find that, come November [when Montenegro play San Marino], we'll be very much in the mix. And if sometimes you've got to fight your way for something, rather than just sail through, that can help. If you look at the Euros, Russia and Holland sailed through but neither of them got out of their groups. And Italy went there with loads of problems, we were led to believe – not least politically – and they ended up in the final. I'm anxious to make us play as well as we can. But I'm equally anxious to make certain we've got those fighting qualities that England has always been famous for and we don't lose them."
Regardless, the imperative to steer England to the World Cup in Brazil is firmly impressed upon the manager and his players. "It would be teaching my grandmother to suck eggs if I was to stand up in front of them and tell them that," said Hodgson. "They would regard that as slightly insulting. There's a lot of football still to be played and the bottom line is this is not an easy group. Poland and Ukraine were at the Euros, we know about Montenegro from the previous campaign. We've always been aware of that.
"Basically speaking, it's about results. We wanted to come to Poland and win. We weren't good enough to win so we wanted to go away with a draw. That's what it's about. But there were quite a lot of circumstances surrounding the game which didn't make life any easier for us and there are occasions in a football match where, if it's not really going your way, you have to have the wherewithal to dig in and make certain you get something from the game. I've seen the boys do that during the Euros. I saw them do it again in Poland and, hopefully, with six games to go, that's going to be important for us."
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