Football: England find a zest for tournament play

Glenn Moore, in Nantes, looks forward to Le Tournoi de France, which kicks off today
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When England defeated Poland on Saturday, Le Tournoi, the four- nation World Cup appetiser for which the national side flew to France yesterday, became a valid learning exercise. Until then it had been haunted by the ghosts of Foxboro.

That was where Graham Taylor's England side, still traumatised by taking one World Cup point in six from matches in Poland and Norway, lost to the United States. They were on a similar World Cup reconnaissance - except it was increasingly evident that they would not actually be in America when it mattered in 1994.

Since Don Revie's England had made a similarly ill-fated trip to Argentina the year before the 1978 World Cup, Hoddle may have had his doubts when he contemplated Le Tournoi even though he said last week: "I'm not superstitious".

Saturday's victory has changed the whole nature of England's involvement. What might have been an introverted, downcast and suspicious playing party left Luton airport yesterday in buoyant mood. Even so, Hoddle was quick yesterday to underline that the celebratory mood would not be allowed to result in excesses. Mindful of the adverse publicity which followed England's last prolonged overseas trip, to Hong Kong, Hoddle indicated that the team would only be allowed out of their hotel under supervision.

"It will be relaxed but professional," Hoddle said. "Any relaxing away from football will be controlled. We are there for business reasons. The players would not want it any other way, they don't want a Fred Karno's Army with nightclubbing and so on. This is experience for 12 months down the line. If we are to win the World Cup, we will have to make sacrifices."

Paul Gascoigne, a central figure in the Hong Kong high jinks, did travel despite the leg injury he suffered in Poland, as did David Beckham, who took a knock on the knee, However, Nicky Butt's hamstring has failed to respond to treatment and he has stayed behind. To replace him, Lee Clark flies out today after completing his pounds 2.5m transfer from Newcastle United to relegated Sunderland.

As a schoolboy, Clark was tipped for greatness but injuries and the influx of foreign players on Tyneside has restricted his progress. "He has an immense talent and I was very impressed with him a couple of years ago. He has not become a poor player but for one thing or another he has not had a strenuous season, which means he will be fresh. Like Nicky, he is a midfielder who likes to get forward."

Clark may make his England debut as the win in Poland has given Hoddle licence to experiment, rather than having to save face. This is especially so in the opening game against Italy in Nantes tomorrow. With an important World Cup tie coming up in Rome in October, neither side will wish to show their full hand. Then there are fixtures with France, next year's hosts, in Montpellier on 7 June, and Brazil, the World Cup holders, in Paris on 10 June.

Paul Scholes and Andy Cole may make their first starts during the tournament but the Manchester United player who can really seize his chance is Beckham. Hoddle has already intimated that he will give Beckham an opportunity to shape the play from central midfield rather than react to it from the right flank. His injury and the desire not to give too much away means this is unlikely to happen against Italy.

Phil Neville is another United player who could profit from the experience. Such was his promise against South Africa Graeme Le Saux needed his good match on Saturday just to keep his place.

Hoddle has been forced to abandon his planned experiment of playing Jamie Redknapp as a Matthias Sammer style sweeper but he may, after Gareth Southgate's composed display in Poland, ask the Villa player to play a similar role. As Sammer demonstrated for Borussia Dortmund against Juventus, it is still a job for defending first and creating second - the German barely went forward at all in their European Cup triumph.

"We have been working with Gareth on seeing and hitting those 60-yard balls behind the defence. He's doing it more and is capable of doing that and stepping up into midfield."

Apart from Germany, who are playing a qualifying game against Ukraine, the tournament features the strongest possible opposition, but none of the other teams are unbeatable. Brazil lost to Norway last week - putting into perspective England's results there - and Ronaldo's mind is less on his international present than his club future.

France, like Brazil short of competitive football, are over-loaded with midfielders and two of them, Zinedine Zidane and Didier Deschamps, will still be reeling form that Dortmund defeat. They are also embroiled in a row over boot money. The Italians, meanwhile, only finished their domestic season on Sunday.

Four players with something to prove in the Tournoi de France

David Beckham

(England, Manchester United, age 22, caps 7)

He has still to play regularly as a central midfielder for Manchester United, but it has been obvious to anyone who has seen his development that he is born to play there. His ability to both see and play a pass would profit from such a role and his shooting would be even more potent. Hoddle has eased him gently into the side and now is the time to hand him extra responsibility. Confident and relatively mature, he has so far taken his rise in his stride.


(Brazil, Palmeiras,

age 26, caps 5)

Given that he is keeping Juninho out of the squad, it would be no surprise if Djalminha appeared dressed as Superman. It is not as simple as that, claims coach Mario Zagallo - this is a chance to assess him against European opposition. The volatile midfielder is also said to be more of a "Brazilian No 10" as he concentrates on attack rather than hunting the ball, unlike Juninho. Imagine, if you can, Matt Le Tissier working hard and then being left out because of it.

Alessandro Del Piero

(Italy, Juventus,

age 22, caps 12)

Once heralded as Italy's great young prospect, injuries, the demands of club, country and military commitments have combined to dull his glitter. But his expertly taken goal, after coming on as a substitute in the European Cup final last week, illustrated his talent. Perhaps his lack of matches will result in a freshness that allows him to regain his place in the spotlight. Unlikely to play against England, as he is still recovering from an eye injury suffered in Munich.

Zinedine Zidane

(France, Juventus,

age 24, caps 23)

He failed in the European Championship and failed in the European Cup final in Munich. Is he, like Eric Cantona - the man he superseded - not up to the big occasion? However, his Champions' League performances for Juventus suggest otherwise, as Manchester United found out for themselves. It is hard to believe he is still only 24 and thus still learning. This will be another step in his footballing education, and in our knowledge of him.