Football: Ferdinand's arrival may prompt tactical rethink by Hoddle

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There was a sense, at Wembley on Saturday night, that the real World Cup business was being done elsewhere, in Naples, Brussels and Kiev. Even Glenn Hoddle, when he sat down for his final debriefing in one of Wembley's private rooms, kept an eye on the television coverage of Italy's Russian roulette.

If he was thinking, whenever Cesare Maldini's haunted face came into view, "There but for the grace of God go I", he kept it well hidden. He knew he had already earned the right to spend a quiet evening beginning his preparations for next summer's French examination. He knew also, despite the low-key nature of England's win over Cameroon, that he had made a good start.

England did not play particularly well on Saturday but they won - which is always helpful - and revealed enough to occupy Hoddle's thoughts during the winter months. Much of this was positive. Of the fringe squad candidates, Rio Ferdinand, Andy Hinchcliffe and Robbie Fowler emerged with credit, while of the probables Sol Campbell and Paul Scholes underlined their continuing progress. Paul Ince also emphasised his enduring excellence. Even the main negative, Gareth Southgate's injury, does not appear as serious as first thought, and it gave Ferdinand longer than originally planned.

Hoddle spoke beforehand of players taking their chances, and the young West Ham defender seized his. Hoddle had the courage to play him between Campbell and Hinchcliffe, rather than move Campbell into the centre, and was rewarded with a composed performance of high promise.

Cameroon, admittedly, did not provide much of an attacking threat, and Ferdinand was grateful to a timely covering tackle from Campbell on one occasion, but he generally defended well. The highlight was a break from defence which led to his creating a good chance for Fowler and hinted at the possibilities of his one day fulfilling the sweeper role, a la Matthias Sammer.

But in this World Cup? Hoddle said last week that there was not enough time, but after the match he appeared to be reconsidering. "It is something to think about," he said. "I still say there's not enough time and games, but injuries can force it. You have to ask: `Will it make us a threat to win the World Cup?' If so it's worth looking at, but if the player or system is not ready I'd be a fool to do it.

"It's always difficult to come in off the bench, especially at this level, but Rio settled extremely well. He showed a great temperament and has ability. Maybe he could do the Sammer role in the long term but I now won't see him until February. If I had him day to day he could do it consistently."

Hoddle has studied the sweeper role and played it himself at Swindon. "It is a difficult position to get right, it is an idealist position. There are different ways of playing it," he explained. Ronald Koeman and Rudi Krol would step forward then "hurt you with 60-yard passes". Bobby Moore would "make the extra man" in midfield. Sammer does that but also pushes into attack. Franz Beckenbauer and Ruud Gullit could do both. Hoddle sees Ferdinand as a Sammer - "no disrespect, but I can't see him hitting 60-yard balls like Koeman.

"It can be easier at international level as you have time to think. You are less pressurised at the back and have time to spring the trap. But you've got to be able to affect the play if you step forward. You should not do it for the sake of it.

"He has an all-round game - he could play in midfield or up front for the under-21s now - but he is still finding his feet at Premiership level. Is he ready to defend against the very best? That's what he will be up against in France. We have a good defensive record, and there is a danger in going that next step further that we might start conceding."

There was little danger of that on Saturday, partly because, alongside Ferdinand, both Campbell and Hinchcliffe, playing an unfamiliar role, were excellent. "Hinchcliffe was a calculated gamble which I'm very pleased with," the England coach said. "Campbell just gets better and better. We have sorted out a lot of his defensive positional play. He has the pace and strength to recover when he is caught out but will be even better when he gets his positioning right all the time."

That trio had 11 caps between them on Saturday morning; the front pair had five. Hoddle was equally pleased with them. "I'm delighted with Scholes. He is fulfilling his potential and has a very bright future. He could be the jewel in the crown. Fowler was solid in his hold-up play most of the time. He has a lot of guile and he had opportunities to score further goals which is good."

Hoddle emphasised that successful teams tended to have a balance of experience and youth and, as if to underline the fact, underpinning everything was Ince. When Ferdinand went forward so impressively it was Ince who encouraged him to do so and who filled the gap. Both goals began with him, too.

The first, a minute before half-time, came after he won a good tackle after Gascoigne's pass had been short. The ball went back to Gascoigne, who quickly atoned with a surging run that took him past three players before he held off a fourth and slipped a neat pass to Scholes. Two Cameroon giants crashed in to tackle and when the dust cleared, Scholes was still standing to dink the loose ball over the onrushing goalkeeper.

A minute later, Samuel Ipoua crunched unnecessarily into the Liverpool midfielder. Not so long ago Ince would have been up and eyeballing his opponent. This time he contented himself with a glare. Into injury time and Ince, 35 yards out, slid a slide-rule ball to the unmarked David Beckham on the right. When the cross came in Ince was under it but, aware he would not make good contact, or perhaps hearing a call, he ducked his head at the last moment and Fowler nodded the ball in.

A textbook volley early in the second period almost gave him a deserved goal but all he got was a harsh booking for a mistimed challenge near the end. Fortunately it did not count beyond the 90 minutes.

Of the rest, Steve McManaman did his best work off the ball but still disappointed, Gascoigne played largely within himself, Nigel Martyn was slightly unconvincing but not troubled enough for a fair judgement, while Beckham and Phil Neville were quiet by their own standards.

Next up is South American opposition in February, probably Argentina, who represent an exciting prospect, not least because, given the countries' respective histories, they should be considerably more competitive than Cameroon.

Goals: Scholes (44) 1-0; Fowler (45) 2-0.

ENGLAND (3-5-1-1): Martyn (Leeds); Campbell (Tottenham), Southgate (Aston Villa), Hinchcliffe (Everton); Beckham (Manchester United), Gascoigne (Rangers), Ince (Liverpool), McManaman (Liverpool), P Neville (Manchester United); Scholes (Manchester United); Fowler (Liverpool). Substitutes: Ferdinand (West Ham) for Southgate, 39; Lee (Newcastle) for Gascoigne, 73; Sutton (Blackburn Rovers) for Scholes, 79.

CAMEROON (4-4-2): Ongandzi (Unisport de Bafang); Song (Metz), Mimboe (unattached), Kalla (Pananaki Patras), Etchi (Coton Sport); Ipoua (Rapid Vienna), Etame (Bastia), Foe (Lens), Wome (Lucchese); Mboma (Osaka), Job (Lyon). Substitutes: Olembe (Nantes) for Etame, 73; Njitap (Genglerbirligi) for Mboma, 77.

Referee: T Hauge (Norway).

Booked: England: Ince. Cameroon: Ipoua, Foe.

Man of the match: Ince. Attendance: 46,176.

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