Football: Enter Neville on world stage

Ian Ridley reports from England's training camp ahead of the battle of Toulouse
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The Independent Online
THE England coach Glenn Hoddle says he will have no worries about changing a winning side for tomorrow's World Cup match against Romania in Toulouse if he decides that a different approach from the opening game against Tunisia is required. In the event, though, it is likely that there will be only one change.

"Every game is a different kettle of fish," said Hoddle. "In the Premiership, you get to know teams and their shape, and it is pretty similar. This is a different game completely and it might need a different set of tactics and different individuals to go and get the result. Some people might say that you don't change a winning side but in the past I have done. I did in the qualifying games."

That kettle of fish could be a red herring, however, in traditional Hoddle style, and it is probable he will stick with the team who beat Tunisia 2-0. The one enforced change could well see Gary Neville replacing Gareth Southgate, who has an ankle injury that has improved of late but may not heal in time.

Southgate said yesterday he would put England's cause before personal ambition, adding he had learned the lesson of 18 months ago when he played in the qualifier in Georgia carrying an injury. He would not make the same mistake again. "I am optimistic but it is a case of making sure I am 100 per cent right. The selfish thing to do would be to say I am going to play, but I don't think that would be fair on the team."

A recall for David Beckham is improbable, with Hoddle - still touchy on the subject as he brought questioning to an abrupt end on Friday - thought to be not best pleased by a frank interview given by the Manchester United player in midweek, in which he said he had not received a proper explanation for his omission. "I spoke to him less than an hour after the session when I announced the team and he took everything on board. He agreed with me," Hoddle countered. "If he was frank in his interview, fine. I didn't get that response when I spoke to him. All the reasons will remain private."

Invited then to say that Beckham, who has been confiding closely in Neville this week and has asked his club-mate to be best man at his wedding, would play some part in the tournament, Hoddle replied: "I can't say that. There are 22 players that I have available to me as coach."

For all Hoddle's apparent subsequent cooling, Beckham's manipulation of the ball would seem to be needed at some point, however. England's performance against Tunisia, who looked the weakest team in the competition on the evidence so far, was competent but far from the spectacular that reaction in some quarters would have.

Darren Anderton will undoubtedly improve as his match fitness does but, inside, David Batty looked the belt to the braces of Paul Ince in front of the back three. Adequate enough, Batty rarely attacks the space in front of him as Steve McManaman or Beckham might and England have taken on an efficient look where the potential is for more. One can only hope that if, or when, qualification for the second round is secured, there is a more positive attitude.

In the meantime, Hoddle is again likely to proceed with caution tomorrow. The strength of the Romanians is in going forward and England are likely to seek to counter-attack, in line with the coach's credo.

"They are a seeded side and have got more experience at World Cup level than us," says Hoddle. "They are a good side technically so in many ways they are the favourites. Defending is an aspect of their game that is not natural to them. That's something we have certainly looked at and something we hope to capitalise on. They're happiest in possession and have good movement off the ball. In fact, they are a typical side at this level. You can't take your eye off the situation. You have to have total concentration."

To ignore Gheorghe Hagi is to court danger, even though he is now 33. "He is a wonderful international player, a wonderful tournament player," says Hoddle. "As a club manager playing 38 games I wouldn't take him but in a World Cup with the sun on his back he can make the difference. He will be respected."

The criticism is that the Romanians are an ageing team. "Experience means so much at this level," says Hoddle. "I can't comment whether they have got enough legs to win the tournament but we are not talking about that. They are second game in and they are still fresh."

It should be a tight confrontation, the last four matches between the two nations having yielded draws, and there will be some fascinating individual contests; Graeme Le Saux up against his Chelsea colleague Dan Petrescu and Alan Shearer being marked by Iulian Filipescu. Neville is also likely to have his hands full with Adrian Ilie, the scorer of the Romanians' winning goal against Colombia.

Though it remains possible that three teams can finish with six points in Group G, it is likely that if England are brave enough to want to win, rather than simply draw, they will be all but in the last 16. With the match against Colombia - who are in some disarray following the expulsion from the camp of Faustino Asprilla - to come next Friday, options for the second round will be clearer. That, however, is quite another bouilloire de poissons.

England (probable): Seaman; G Neville, Adams, Campbell; Anderton, Batty, Ince, Scholes, Le Saux; Shearer, Sheringham.

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