England striker Andy Carroll says he can hardly believe how his soccer fortunes have improved. The turnaround poses a European Championship selection “headache” tonight for national coach Roy Hodgson.
He struggled to score for Liverpool after becoming the most expensive British player in a 35 million-pound ($54.8 million) transfer from Newcastle last year. Three goals in the team’s final seven matches last season helped him secure a place on the national squad for Euro 2012.
He’s already helped England at the tournament, scoring with a powerful header in a 3-2 victory over Sweden four days ago. He was engulfed by his teammates in the kind of celebration he’s scarcely experienced at Liverpool, having scored six goals in 42 league games since joining in January 2011.
“Not really,” Carroll, 23, said in an interview when asked if he could believe his career upturn. “Obviously I didn’t have the best of seasons, but I’m here now and I’m giving it my best.”
England plays tournament co-host Ukraine in its last Group D match tonight. It’s alongside group leader France with four points and needs to avoid defeat to reach the quarterfinals. Ukraine, on three points, must win to advance.
Hodgson must decide whether to pick Carroll or Danny Welbeck to pair with Wayne Rooney in attack for the match in Donetsk. Rooney is returning after being suspended for the two opening games. Welbeck scored the winner with a flick of his heel against Sweden.
“It’s become a very difficult choice because both have done so well both in friendly matches before we came to the tournament, and the tournament itself,” Hodgson told reporters last night. “They’ve given me the classic manager’s headache. But it’s the headache we all want because it’s players who are in form and playing well and competing for a place.”
Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin said he’d love to have the same dilemma as Hodgson. His leading striker Andriy Shevchenko is only a “50-50” chance to recover from a knee injury to play in the game and Ukraine doesn’t possess another player comparable to the 35-year-old Dynamo Kiev striker, who took the Ballon d’Or award as European soccer’s best player in 2004.
Against Sweden, Carroll ran past right-back Andreas Granqvist to power in Steven Gerrard’s deep cross in the 23rd minute. Playing regularly with his Liverpool teammate and captain meant that he knew where the ball would go.
“Steve’s got the ability to do that,” Carroll said. “So as soon as he put his head up and looks at me, I know where I’m going to make my move and he puts it in and I got on the end of it.”
Granqvist said Carroll’s strength allowed England to play further up the field than it does when relying on quick players like Welbeck, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ashley Young, who were chosen for the 1-1 draw with France on June 11.
“They can push up the team and keep the ball a little longer in the offense,” Granqvist said after the June 15 match in Kiev. “The English will be happy with his game.”
Carroll’s difficulties at Liverpool meant he was benched by former manager Kenny Dalglish at times last season. Club and national teammate Glen Johnson said the striker should be cut some slack until he’s had longer to settle with the 18-time English champion.
“Maybe when he first came he didn’t have a lot of luck,” Johnson said in an interview. “Things weren’t falling his way, but it happens a lot with people who move clubs. You don’t always turn up and start scoring goals or playing your best when you move to a new club.”
Carroll is better with the ball at his feet than people give him credit for, Johnson said. Still, his main attributes relate to his 6-foot-3 (1.90-meter) frame.
“He’s a big physical presence and uses his body well,” Johnson said.
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