Football: European Championship - Hoddle sounds rallying call

England coach takes positive line about return to form against Luxembourg
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The Independent Online
THERE IS, Glenn Hoddle assured us yesterday, no fortress mentality among him and his players. Which made it rather unfortunate that the statement was delivered in a castle.

Seated in front of a tapestry, rather than a wall of sponsors' logos, Hoddle looked tired but spoke well, briefly lowering the drawbridge to his hopes and emotions. On the eve of tonight's European Championship qualifier against Luxembourg, a match England must win, he also delivered what was, by his standards, a rallying cry.

"This is a challenge for me personally, for my staff and my players," he said in the Chateau de Bourglinster, 15 miles north of the capital. "We have responded before and have to make sure we will do so again. You have ups and downs in football. It is how you deal with the downs which ensures you come back to the better days. We know we can perform better and we've had good discussions about it. There's been no sulking. There's plenty of resolve."

Since the weekend draw with Bulgaria there have been opinion polls calling for Hoddle's resignation but he said: "They don't concern me, I'm concentrating on the match. I expected criticism, it goes with the job and it's been no different for anyone else.

"There is always this period in this job. You have to come through it and I am determined to do so. As a player I had to deal with changes in people's opinion of me. It was good experience for this.

"People will get behind us if we are winning games. We came out of the World Cup with everyone slapping us on the back. Two games later we have this scenario. In another two or three games it might be completely turned around again. There's points to be taken right across the board and if we can get back into a winning run we can win the group."

First, they have to beat Luxembourg and Hoddle has selection problems which, against stronger opposition, would cause concern. The lengthy list of injuries and suspensions depriving him of seven players may now include Graeme Le Saux (bruised foot) and Teddy Sheringham (calf and knee) by kick-off. Neither trained at the Stade Josy Barthel last night. Sol Campbell (calf) did join in the session and is expected to be fit, but the other two players face fitness tests today.

Even if both fail, Hoddle can still field eight of the team which drew 2-2 with Argentina in the World Cup before losing on penalties. It is a side which ought to crush a team largely made up of bank workers and government officials and also containing a postman and a theatre manager. There are two full-timers but one of them, Jeff Saibene, of the Swiss club Locarno, is struggling with a thigh injury.

Sixteen years ago England beat Luxembourg 9-0 at Wembley but Hoddle, who came on and scored in that game, then made three of the four goals in the return match here the following year, said: "There are no cricket scores any more. Look at Spain who lost to Cyprus last month, and France who drew with Iceland. We simply have to win. It might be a great victory, it might be 1-0: we have to make sure it is a victory.

"Luxembourg put on a very brave performance in Poland on Saturday. They were down to 10 men after 25 minutes but only lost 3-0, which was a respectable result."

England, who have often prospered in away games under Hoddle because of their penchant for the counter-attack, expect a similar match to a home game, with plenty of possession against a deep defence. They struggled to cope with such a tactic on Saturday and Hoddle added: "They'll get people behind the ball, we'll have to be patient and do a professional job. The movement has to be better than Saturday. Individuals have to take responsibility to get on the back of defenders."

David Beckham, who Hoddle said has been "chomping at the bit" will return for the suspended Jamie Redknapp and David Batty may replace Rob Lee, who worked hard at Wembley. Beckham will start inside but is likely to interchange with Darren Anderton on the right flank so his crossing can come into play.

"It suits his range of passing to play in the middle of the pitch but he [Beckham] is still the best crosser in the country," Hoddle said. "He plays wide for his club every week and I think it is his natural position."

A handsome victory tonight, followed by a decent performance against the Czech Republic, who yesterday replaced Yugoslavia as Wembley friendly opponents on 18 November, would see the tide of criticism against Hoddle begin to ebb - at least until the next European Championship match, against Poland in March.

Paul Philipp, whose position as Luxembourg coach is unchallenged despite only winning two competitive matches in 13 years, said: "I wish England had beaten Bulgaria as this new setback will make then even more fearsome - they will be forced to shine."

Philipp, unconsciously outlining just why Hoddle is under such pressure, added: "Everyone who saw England at the World Cup fails to understand why they only have one point out of six."

He is not alone.

Remaining fixtures: Today: Bulgaria v Sweden; Luxembourg v England. 1999: Mar 27: Sweden v Luxembourg; England v Poland. Mar 31: Luxembourg v Bulgaria; Poland v Sweden. June 5: Poland v Bulgaria; England v Sweden. June 9: Luxembourg v Poland; Bulgaria v England. Sept 4: Sweden v Bulgaria; England v Luxembourg. Sept 8: Luxembourg v Sweden; Poland v England. Oct 9: Sweden v Poland. Oct 10: Bulgaria v Luxembourg. Scots' new era, page 27