Football: Adams leads the search for a psychological edge

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The Independent Online
Glenn Hoddle, it seemed, was sending more messages yesterday than poor civil war-damaged Tbilisi's hard-pressed communications system could cope with, as all struggled to phone home, on the eve of England's World Cup qualifying match against Georgia.

In choosing Tony Adams as his captain, Hoddle has sought to bridge the gap between Euphoria '96 and the rather more dour business of qualifying for the World Cup in France '98. He also believes that it illustrates a wider point of change for the better. In addition, he sees the real goal of victory as giving England a significant mental edge over their nearest group rivals, Italy.

Adams, a veteran of hostile foreign fields with Arsenal to boot, takes over from the injured Alan Shearer as team leader and is rewarded not just for his form in his club's ascent to the top of the Premiership, but also his altered attitude as he enters the third month of his recovery from alcoholism.

"The main thing has been his form after his knee operation," Hoddle said. "He has probably come back leaner after his injury than he has ever looked in the last three or four years. That's probably significant in the fact that he is addressing his other problem. To me, he has looked sharper and has played consistently well this season.

"And the fact that he is trying to put things right, that might be a good example not just for the players, but for everyone," Hoddle added. "I think that's the point we are trying to make this week. He's a super example in many ways of how people can turn their lives around and he's getting his just reward for it."

Adams and David Seaman in goal are probably the only certain selections. Last night Hoddle wanted to check on ankle injuries to Gareth Southgate and Stuart Pearce at training in the Boris Paichaidze stadium, and the state of the pitch, as well as talking to Paul Gascoigne one last time before deciding on his line-up. "It will be a football discussion," he insisted of the Gazza summit.

The coach did reveal that he would be retaining the 3-5-2 shape of the team, with the composition of the midfield crucial. He is concerned about that area of the Georgians - "Where their strength is".

For that reason, if Gascoigne - a liability defensively against Poland last month - does play, Hoddle is likely to install an extra ball winner in midfield, possibly David Batty, and eschew the flair players Matthew Le Tissier and Steve McManaman, relying instead on Teddy Sheringham and David Beckham in that department. At the back we could see three more recognisable central defenders, rather than full-backs.

Besides Georgi Kinkladze, the AEK Athens player Temur Ketsbaia is also a ball-carrying worry who will need to be countered. "The vital period for us is the first 25 minutes," Hoddle said. "We have to make sure they don't get on top, because if they do, they have players who can respond."

Hoddle played for England in a 1-0 win against the Soviet Union here 10 years ago but expects this to be a different atmosphere. "There will be more passion," he said. "At that time they were under the USSR and really wanted to be a Republic. England played well on the day and the crowd turned against their team and cheered us, which was an unusual situation. I don't think that will happen tomorrow night."

The Georgians are clearly a talented collection of individuals, for whom consistency is the problem. "I have seen them lose 0-5 and win 5-0," Hoddle said. "They are a side with individuals who respond to good support and we have to make sure we don't give anything away early doors."

Should England retain possession sufficiently to quell the crowd, wresting control of the crucial midfield, they should then have enough defensive organisation and striking potential to eke out a victory, albeit narrow.

It would see England three points clear of Italy at the top of the group after wins over Moldova and Poland, with the home game against the Italians next up at Wembley in February, when Shearer will return as captain, if available, as Hoddle has promised him a three-game run.

"It wouldn't be a disaster if we drew, but we will be trying to win this game," Hoddle said. "It is significant that the Italians don't play competitively this week and if we get the three points against Georgia, then going into the Wembley game, it will be an edge to us psychologically."

Indeed, such a result, should there be telephone lines to send it out, would give a strong message in a group from which only one nation will qualify automatically. It might also be more of a fillip temporarily for Adams and Co than any counsellor can provide.

Captain Adams, plus other World Cup news, page 28