England boss Roy Hodgson says Deli Alli has “got an awful lot to do” and urged the media not to push the Tottenham man.
Hodgson handed the 19-year-old midfielder a place in the squad to face Estonia and Lithuania and he came off the bench on 88 minutes to replace Ross Barkley in Friday’s night’s 2-0 win over Estonia at Wembley.
Alli is likely to get more playing time on Monday night against Lithuania, but he England boss though has pleaded for caution around the former MK Dons man, who was plying his trade in League One only last season.
“Dele Alli, don’t start pushing with him,” Hodgson said. “He’s still got an awful lot to do.”
England will make it 10 wins from 10 qualifying matches on Monday provided they overcome the straightforward task of beating Lithuania in Vilnius.
Should England beat the 116th-ranked nation in the world, they will become only the sixth country in history to reach the tournament with a 100 per cent record.
History shows a good qualifying record counts for little when it comes to major tournaments, however.
Fabio Capello took England to South Africa after just one qualifying defeat, but the Three Lions scraped through an easy group at the tournament in 2010 before being hammered by Germany in the second round.
After negotiating his way through a difficult qualification group Hodgson took England to Brazil full of hope, but a damaging early defeat to Italy and a loss to Uruguay meant they were eliminated at the earliest possible opportunity.
Hodgson has seen England’s rugby team suffer a similar fate recently and he knows a strong start will be key to his squad’s chances of success in France.
“What would have given us a better chance in the tournament last time is winning the first game, or certainly not losing it,” the England manager said.
“Tournaments are three cup finals. It’s not a league. The qualification period is a league, but when you get there you just need that little bit of luck.
“The World Cup is three matches. We’ve just seen it with rugby.
“It’s 14 weeks’ preparation, four years if you like, working with the team, and then you come across Wales and you don’t win it, which puts you under pressure for the second game.
“And then you come up against Australia, who are the second favourites, and you don’t win it, so therefore after that everything’s woeful and disastrous.
“That’s how simple tournaments are. For all your preparation, for all your work, if you get there, play brilliantly in the first game but lose it 1-0 to a dodgy penalty, you’re a disaster. That’s what we’ve understood.”
The final preparation stage for France 2016 starts next month when the tournament hosts come to Wembley and England travel to the holders Spain for two stiff friendly tests.
World champions Germany await England in March and the Football Association is also planning a friendly against Holland before the finals.
The match in Vilnius is therefore a big opportunity for the fringe players to prove they deserve a chance to go to the European Championship.
Last chance saloon
“This is maybe the last game where I could happily give people a chance to show what they can do,” Hodgson said.
“If it doesn’t go our way, no harm is done and everybody knows that they’ve got to be fighting for a place in what I consider my first XI when we put the team out against Spain.”
Over three years after making his England debut, Jack Butland will earn his second cap.
“We always believed in him and he’s certainly deserved his chance,” Hodgson said of the Stoke goalkeeper.
Jamie Vardy, who set up Raheem Sterling for England’s second goal in their 2-0 win over Estonia on Friday, “might well” start in Vilnius, Hodgson said.
The 20 players travelling to Vilnius will undertake a full training session at the stadium on Sunday.
Last week the goalkeepers trained on an astroturf pitch at St George’s Park to prepare them for the artificial surface in Lithuania.
With Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Joe Hart among five players sent home to recuperate, Hodgson has to decide who will lead the team out at the LFF Stadium against Lithuania on Monday night.
“Someone will be (captain) but I need to give it a bit of thought,” he said.