Football: Hoddle asks Gascoigne to play it again

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The Independent Online
GLENN HODDLE arrives in Casablanca today seeking, like Paul Henreid in the film which made the Moroccan city famous, to put his troubles behind him and find the means to a better future.

While Henreid had Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman on his side, Hoddle has Paul Gascoigne and Eileen Drewery. This enigmatic pair are, perhaps, less photogenic but they are just as central to the plot. Both are likely to be in action as England undertake the next stage in their World Cup preparation, this afternoon's friendly against Morocco in the King Hassan II Cup.

Gascoigne will definitely play but, unless Mrs Drewery's healing hands are on top form, his midfield partner, Paul Ince, will not. Ince broke down in training at La Manga, in Spain, yesterday with a recurrence of his ankle injury and, though Hoddle professed not to be too concerned, the way the medical staff fussed around Ince suggested they were.

"Paul has a slight problem with his ankle but it's nothing mega-drastic," said Hoddle. "We pulled him out of the session as a precaution - there will not be a problem for the start of the World Cup. We may even be able to play him in Morocco."

Ince and Gascoigne have lost once in 19 games in tandem for England - the defeat to Brazil in Le Tournoi - and Hoddle had planned to play them together against Morocco. "If you roll them up into one you've got a complete player," said Hoddle. "They go together so well and if they're in the hub of your side there's a nice balance there."

The match co-incides with Gascoigne's 31st birthday and, said Hoddle, "he loves playing football so it's probably the best thing he'd want. If he can mark it by playing well and gets himself a goal it would be a lovely present.

"We've eased him in carefully but he now needs 90 minutes. He's ready for it but the problem area is 75 minutes. It's then that we find out how fit he is and whether to take him off. He's then going into the zone where he could pull a muscle so I've got to be vigilant about it and he's got to be honest and professional about how he's feeling."

After the disappointing draw with Saudi Arabia on Saturday Hoddle, who will name his final 22-man squad on 1 June, is looking for a more coherent performance. However, selection is made difficult by the need to play some of the fringe candidates; to give time in the middle to some of those still seeking full fitness; and to keep players fresh for the match against Belgium on Friday.

Likely starters, in a team expected to show a lot of changes from Saturday, include Martin Keown, Sol Campbell, Ian Wright - his first England match since his injury - and Nicky Butt. Graeme Le Saux is almost back to full fitness after an ankle problem and is expected to play some part.

The game will be closely watched by the Scots, who face Morocco in St Etienne on 23 June in what could be a decisive final group game. Widely regarded as the best of the North Africans, Morocco will be making their fourth trip to the finals next month. In 1986 they topped England's group, beating Portugal and drawing with England in a game in which Ray Wilkins was sent off and Bryan Robson helped off with his dislocated shoulder.

The core of the side are based in Europe, with the Deportivo La Coruna trio of Noureddine Naybet, Mustapha Hadji and Salaheddine Bassir making an impressive spine. The team are coached by Henri Michel, who played 50 times for France before coaching them to third place in the 1986 finals. Although the pitch is bumpy, the weather and opposition should give a foretaste of Tunisia in Marseilles on 15 June.

After the match England fly straight back to La Manga. The press will be left behind, enabling the team to celebrate Gazza's birthday with a few Flaming Lamborghinis, or a round of golf, away from cameras and notebooks. England then return on Friday to play Belgium. After that we should know whether Hoddle's problems amount to any more than a hill of beans.

l France, without a victory in their last three games, need a win over Belgium today in Casablanca to boost morale before they host the World Cup. The coach, Aime Jacquet, has made Monaco's Fabien Barthez the first- choice goalkeeper ahead of West Ham's Bernard Lama, but may rest several tired players today.