• Roy Hodgson says side 'really want to perform well'
• Heatwave hits Donetsk but 'same for both teams'
In his few moments of spare time since the telephone call that changed his life, Roy Hodgson has been reading Chess Story by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. Alternatively known as The Royal Game, and published after the novelist took his own life in 1942, it is the story of a man in mental anguish who maintains his sanity only by playing chess.
Whether parallels can be drawn with Hodgson's time with England, from the early ordeals to where, ultimately, he wants the journey to finish, remains to be seen. Zweig's character eventually beats one of the grand masters.
Hodgson is trying to provide a positive answer to the question posed by a French journalist, shortly before the England manager took his players into the punishing heat of the Donbass Arena. "As a Frenchman," his inquisitor began, "we are always afraid of the English. But the English don't do so well. So the question is: is England a great football nation or not?"
Hodgson smiled obligingly, made a standard reference to 1966 being too long ago for his liking and pointed out that England still had enough history, going back to the 19th century, to be considered seriously. But later, in a private reflection away from the television cameras, he referred back to that moment and there was a flicker of mild indignation. "It was a facetious question," he said. "But there was a little element of, not spitefulness, but truth in what he was saying. As a top nation, we haven't won as many tournaments as we should have done, or sometimes done as well as we should have. We're all very aware we've not won anything since 1966.
"We all feel the weight of history. But before the very good French period [the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000] we could have levelled a similar accusation against them."
The corridor where Hodgson was offering his thoughts was hot and airless and, beside him, Steven Gerrard could be seen blowing out his cheeks and removing his tracksuit top. "Roasting," England's captain exclaimed, with a little shake of the head as the mercury rose above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
They have been unfortunate in one respect given that the average June temperatures in Donetsk are in the low 70s, and Hodgson was eager to emphasise his satisfaction with the Football Association's arrangements.
France, however, have the advantage of being based here since Wednesday, as opposed to England flying in from Krakow, and there was a slightly awkward moment when Hodgson was informed Laurent Blanc's players had ice jackets to wear at half-time. Had England? "No, you've got me on that one," he said. "One‑nil to you."
He was reluctant, though, to dwell too much on the heatwave, which falls in line with the Hodgson ethos when it comes to talking about injuries or other potential problems, namely that a manager has to exude calm because the more his cool evaporates the more it overwhelms the players and spreads unease. Much better, according to Hodgson, "just to shrug your shoulders".
And besides, England have done well in extreme heat in the past, not least when they beat France in the opening game of the World Cup in 1982. The temperature in Bilbao that day was in excess of 100 degrees, and it was roughly the same when England beat Tunisia in Marseille in the 1998 World Cup, Switzerland in Coimbra during Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup games against Trinidad & Tobago in Nüremburg and Ecuador in Stuttgart. Naturally, the capitulation against Brazil in the Shizuoka sunshine in 2002 is less encouraging.
The most important thing in these circumstances, going on the evidence of the warm-up games against Norway and Belgium, is that Hodgson's players take better care of the ball. "The bottom line is it's the same for both teams," the manager said. "We have to look at our play and how well we can play. The teams who are good at passing the ball, keeping the ball, will save energy, save some legs."
The FA's preparations have been meticulous to the point that England's training pitch at Krakow's Hutnik stadium has not only the exact measurements of the Donbass, but has the same length of grass and uses the same amount of water that will be the case against France.
On the other hand, Hodgson has had only 41 days as manager, the first 12 of which were spent pre-occupied by West Bromwich Albion matters. In total, there have been two friendlies and 10 training sessions. It is far from ideal, particularly when the opposition is unbeaten in 21 games and has an attacking three of Franck Ribéry, Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri.
No wonder then that a great deal of Hodgson's training has been focused on the team's defensive structure, with Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker not straying too far forward from the centre of midfield and the wide players tucking back to help deprive the French flair players of space. After that, a lot of England's hopes rest on how Ashley Young deputises for Wayne Rooney and, though there have been encouraging signs against Belgium and particularly Norway, the problem for Hodgson is that he has had so little time with these players there is an element of going into the unknown.
"I have to agree with that," he said. "Training is training, matches are matches and I've been in football long enough to know that things don't always click when the big day comes around. It isn't a given. There's no certainty. But one thing I am certain of is the players really want to give a good performance and, if they don't, it won't be because their minds weren't there, the focus wasn't there or they didn't care enough."
For Hodgson, it is the pinnacle of a 36-year career in management, beginning with Halmstad in the south-west of Sweden. "My message is the same one every England manager has given for the fans: that we'll be doing our level best not to send them home disappointed. We can't offer them more than that and we can't promise them more than that, it's the only sensible promise anyone can give.
"To the players my message is going to be: 'I think you're ready, I think you're good enough, now have the confidence and the belief in yourself to go out there and show it – and don't get suicidal if things don't work out for you'."