Doubts over defender’s fitness

Ashley Cole
Ashley Cole
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Ashley Cole’s fitness will be the subject of most interest when England throw open their doors to training this morning in a further attempt to prove themselves “good tourists” at Euro 2012.

Stung by criticism of their stand-offishness in South Africa two years ago, the Football Association have taken a number of measures to ensure such accusations will not be repeated about their time in Poland and Ukraine.

Last night they attended a civic reception, completing the short journey from their city centre hotel on foot, and today it will be a fully open training session before the squad splits, with Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart amongst those to visit Auschwitz and Steven Gerrard leading a trip to Oskar Schindler’s factory in Krakow.

Yet despite the significance of those visits, it is England’s Group D opener with France in Donetsk on Monday that remains most important.

Therefore, Cole’s absence from last night’s reception was noted, with the FA, who were originally unaware the defender was missing, claiming simply that he was “resting” in his room.

However, there have been suggestions Cole missed training yesterday with a stomach bug, even though the FA said everyone took part in a closed-doors session.

Should he be absent this morning, it could mean yet another headache for Hodgson, who may have to use Leighton Baines against the French.

Such a situation would only increase the downbeat mood outside the England camp, even if those inside do not share it.

To many fans, for instance, Liverpool’s Stewart Downing is the player who managed neither a Premier League goal nor an assist in his side’s dismal eighth placed finish.

But the winger has an alternative opinion, even if he accepts that lack of goals is something of an albatross around his neck.

“The goal thing is,” he said, when asked directly if his failure was embarrassing.

“The fact is I didn’t get enough goals.

“I hit the post and the bar many times and missed a few chances so I was disappointed especially when I scored goals for Aston Villa the year before.

“I try to score and maybe next season I will get 10 or 15.”

Downing wouldn’t feel so bad about the goals if that lack of assists wasn’t thrown at him as well.

“Statistics have taken over the game: he doesn’t score this, he hasn’t set up that. You can read into it as you like,” he said.

“I’ve constantly set up chances, season in and season out.

“I can’t be criticised for not creating. I’ve just been unlucky that we’ve not finished the chances.”