Football: Gascoigne to leaven pragmatic approach

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The Independent Online
It should be a match well-suited to a Glenn Hoddle team. With the burden of expectation resting on a home side who crave and need to win, there is little demand to be attractive or entertaining. Contain and counter will be the strategy. The aim is to do what every England coach advises his successor - just win.

England's task against Poland in the Slaski Stadium in Chorzow near Katowice tonight does look a daunting one. Fuelled by fanaticism, the Poles can be expected to attack ferociously in pursuit of three points from World Cup Group Two.

This is no impossible job for Hoddle, despite the perception that Katowice is a curse on England, stemming from 1973, when a 2-0 defeat dented ambitions of reaching the next year's World Cup finals. In fact, England enjoyed good fortune in scrambling draws here in '89 and '93. In addition, their record against Poland is healthy; only that one defeat in 11 encounters.

The match potentially most resembles England's game in Georgia last autumn when they gave their most authoritative performance under Hoddle, less expansive, more pragmatic a coach than he was player. "We have performed well away from home," Hoddle said yesterday. "Yes, this is a similar task to Georgia."

He is thus likely to retain the shape and all available personnel from that team, the one question - as ever - being the role of Paul Gascoigne. Along with Paul Ince, Gazza was declared fit yesterday after a calf injury, but Hoddle was last night awaiting the outcome of a training session at the stadium before finalising his team.

"Looking at Poland's match here against Italy, the game got stretched out in the last 20 minutes unbelievably on what is a huge pitch," said Hoddle. "The option I have is to look at whether I put Gazza in from the bench or whether I start him." The debate is less about the mental and physical health of the player this time, it seems; more about when his influence might be at its height.

Hoddle was much encouraged by Gascoigne's performance against South Africa last Saturday, despite him often being caught in possession. "I expected that," said the coach. "I didn't need a spectacular performance but a sensible one and that's what he gave us." Encouragement, too, for Hoddle comes in the statistic that on the 16 occasions that have seen Gascoigne and Ince paired in midfield, England have not lost.

Should Gascoigne start, and it seems likely he will, Hoddle looks certain again to provide David Batty as minder and holder of the midfield fort. Batty's weakness is a slowness of distribution which can hold up attacks, but tonight will be a night for pace of pass in forward areas only. The man most likely to make way, Robert Lee, can feel aggrieved given his industrious goalscoring performances of late, but should the game demand fresh impetus in its later stages, he can expect to make an appearance.

Above all, England have in Teddy Sheringham and Alan Shearer the combination of thought and thunder to secure the victory, even if that assumes a decent supply line. The tasks of the wing-backs David Beckham and Graeme Le Saux will be to push back their markers and deliver decent crosses.

The concern for England will be a defence, without its marshall Tony Adams, vulnerable to quick bouts of interpassing instigated by the talented Polish captain Piotr Nowak. Hoddle will have thought long and hard about which three from Gary Neville, Gareth Southgate, Sol Campbell and Stuart Pearce to pick.

"Nowak is a very creative player and we have to play tighter as a team than we did at Wembley," said Hoddle. One less worry for him is the Marek Citko, who scored at Wembley but is injured while the Poles' main striker, Andreas Juskowiak, is thought to be less than fully fit.

"It will be more of an open game than people might imagine," said Hoddle. "The Poles' natural instinct is to defend, but if they are going to get second place they have to win. It is important not to give away an early goal, which we did at Wembley. I hope we have learnt lessons from that. I feel we can catch them with that cutting edge we possess and which they will fear."

Alan Shearer, who laughed off suggestions that he would be leaving Newcastle to replace Renaldo at Barcelona, added: "We have been solid, hard to beat. Not perhaps as creative as we can be and maybe some of the flair is missing. But sometimes you have got to sacrifice that away from home. We have players who are very dogged." Just such ingredients, with a dash of Gascoigne, could provide a winning recipe.

Four years ago, it was "made for Wrighty", as Graham Taylor famously remarked here before the Arsenal striker went on to equalise. This one could be made for Hoddle.

POLAND (possible): Wozniak (Porto); Bukalski (Genk), Zielinski (Legia Warsaw), Waldoch (Bochum); Jozwiak (Guingamp), Ledwon (Katowice), Nowak (TSV Munich 1860), Swierczewski (Bastia), Skrzypek (Rakow Czestochohowa); Juskowiak (Borussia Monchengladbach), Gilewicz (VfB Stuttgart).