Football: England on a mission to silence Silesia

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The Independent Online
If he could have found any Englishmen in their squad, perhaps Glenn Hoddle should have included a few Middlesbrough players. "That's to insult Teesside," said one veteran when it was suggested that players from the losing Cup finalists might feel at home in this foreign coalfield where England arrived last night for their World Cup qualifying match against Poland tomorrow. "Katowice makes Middlesbrough look like Cannes."

The Poles enjoy bringing England to industrial Silesia. In 1973, the late, great Bobby Moore made a rare mistake, Poland won 2-0 and England went on to miss Germany 74. Four years ago in the "made for Wrighty" game, we saw Graham Taylor's headless chickens and a 1-1 draw that looked decent enough until Norway followed soon after and England were all but eliminated from USA 94.

The hope is that this is a more experienced and mature, controlled and self-controlled England. The clucking Paul Ince, booked last time and suspended from the 2-0 defeat in Oslo, is supposedly now a swan after two years in Italy, while Ian Wright's anger is apparently being managed by one of that new breed, the FA counsellor.

Cool heads will be required in what is likely to be a fevered atmosphere, with the Poles needing to win if they are to retain hopes of at least reaching a play-off from Group Two. England matches in the stadium at Chorzow, on the fringe of Katowice, have been known to unfold against a backdrop of terrace unrest.

"It's an intimidating place and a fanatical crowd but it loses a bit of atmosphere with a running track around it so I don't see too much of a problem," said Hoddle, not likely himself to get too carried away. "We had to deal with it in Georgia. Once the game starts, as a player you switch off from that.

"I wouldn't say this place is the most attractive to go and play but we are going to have to be mentally switched on," the England coach added. Indeed, the words of Bill Shankly spring to mind. He was once asked if Anfield intimidated players. "Only the bad ones," he replied.

Hoddle is more concerned with the state of the pitch, which he is led to believe will be better than the last time England played here. The aim, he insists, is to win the game, rather than emulate the previous draw as he still retains hopes of heading the group rather than settling for a play-off.

Staying in touch with the leaders, Italy, will be crucial if the match against them in Rome in October is to remain meaningful rather than be a mere shutting-out exercise for an Italian team which excels at just that.

"It's an English instinct to try and win a game," Hoddle said. "That's how we are brought up as kids. I am trying to win the game and I've said that to the players. The game in Italy doesn't happen as I hope it's going to happen if we don't win in Poland.

"As well as a tough environment to play in, the Poles are a tough side to play against," he added. "They should have beaten Italy. They had the opportunities. Their natural instinct is to man-mark and make things difficult for you to create, but I am confident with the players I have in the squad that we can win.

"They have got to try and beat us, to come out and be open at certain times of the game. That's the time we have to make sure we punish them. We have scored five goals away from home and not let a goal in so we have got to have that same mentality in approaching the game."

In the match at Wembley last October, England's first at home after Euro 96, Poland initially dominated, scoring early through the now injured Marek Citko, who subsequently turned down Blackburn Rovers, before two pieces of Alan Shearer opportunism came to the rescue. Hoddle wants no repetition of England's sluggish start then.

"There were a few stern words because it wasn't the way I wanted it done," said Hoddle. "It was after the summer and they thought they could just put on the shirts and perform. They didn't give Poland the respect they should have done. We won the game but there were things we didn't do."

The failure to close down space and opponents was the main thing and hard work in a city known for its industry will be crucial this time. There is indeed something from Middlesbrough that England could do with tomorrow night; it is the aggressive yet calm spirit - as player, at least - of Bryan Robson.

Dortmund's art, page 30

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