Football: Full hand for Hoddle

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The Independent Online
Glenn Hoddle will heave a sigh of relief today as he welcomes back his players for the World Cup qualifier against Georgia at Wembley on 30 April.

Alan Shearer, back in form after his latest hernia operation, and David Seaman head the comeback list after the horrors of last month's friendly against Mexico. Then the England coach, already without half a dozen top players, lost an unprecedented 11 players from his squad for the Easter friendly.

Now it is back to competitive action and England's problems appear to have melted away, with only Paul Gascoigne a major absentee. Matthew Le Tissier, who needs surgery on a groin at the end of the season, is hoping to make his comeback from a hamstring problem at Sunderland tomorrow, though a lack of match fitness may count against him.

Hoddle also has problems with two strikers: Les Ferdinand for expressing disillusionment with his international career; and Robbie Fowler, who begins a domestic suspension on the day of the game.

There is no longer a "morality clause" which automatically rules him out of an England manager's plans, but the ban throws a doubt over his long-term fitness.

The return to fitness of Seaman and Ian Walker also gives Hoddle another headache, with five goalkeepers fighting for what should be no more than three places. David James' recent howlers make him the obvious victim even though he made his debut, somewhat shakily, with a clean sheet against Mexico. Nigel Martyn is in form and Tim Flowers is doing nothing wrong at Blackburn, so it is hard to see the Liverpool goalkeeper surviving.

Georgia, beaten impressively away without Shearer in November, will worry at the idea of the Newcastle man being back in the groove with four goals in his four comeback games. Ferdinand, Nick Barmby, Paul Merson and David Beckham are also available now, along with the defenders Gary Neville, Tony Adams, Sol Campbell and Gary Pallister.

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