Football: Hoddle drawn to a dominant future

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND have added two fixtures to their build-up for the World Cup finals. They will travel to Switzerland in March before playing host to Portugal in April.

There are now four definite matches, beginning with Chile at Wembley on 11 February. The Swiss match is on Wednesday 25 March, and the game against the Portuguese on Wednesday 22 April. Saudi Arabia are already confirmed visitors to Wembley on Saturday 25 May.

Meanwhile, international football comes out of its winter hibernation today with the draw for the 2000 European Championship qualifying competition taking place in Belgium, who will co-host the finals with Holland.

"Coming through a tough World Cup qualifying group should give us the confidence to say that whoever we get, we are capable of qualifying," said the England coach, Glenn Hoddle, who will be travelling to Ghent hoping to bring back good news.

By the time the finals come around, he expects there to be plenty. "The major thing is that a lot of our young players will be more experienced then," he said. "If we qualify, we are going to be more ready than possibly we will be going to the World Cup.

"We have had good young players in the past but at the time our game was stagnant and predictable and a long way off the continentals. Now we have a fresher outlook and we will grow. Certainly, with the structure Howard Wilkinson is bringing in as technical director, we will produce more quality players, though we may not see them in two years."

Manchester United's developing dominance, Hoddle believes, will be good for the nation in two years. "When Italy were strong, Milan were dominant, Holland had fantastic teams in the Seventies and Bayern Munich were prominent when Germany were. We did have Liverpool, but they contained a lot of Scottish, Irish and Welsh players. Now United are English."

Hoddle is unconcerned by the dip in form and fitness of some of his senior players including David Seaman, Tony Adams, Paul Gascoigne and Ian Wright. "If you are a racehorse trainer and you have got the Derby coming up you wouldn't be too worried this early in the season," he said.

"The injury issue is the worst, particularly the coming-back period. In Alan Shearer's case, he has progressed well but the real test will come three or four games down the line, when the confidence that the injury is not going to go on him again is back. We won't rush him for the Chile game. There is another in March."

Hoddle's purpose over the next few months is to finalise a a 32-player squad in his mind. "The hardest part of the job is building it up to that," he said. "I can easily pick a 22 if everyone is fit but I could lose players even on the last day of the season."

Before then, Hoddle will be involved for the first time in the fixture- arranging for the Euro 2000 competition, which will make negotiating for World Cup warm-up friendlies seem tame.

Though seeded and thus facing four opponents in their qualifying group rather than five, England must still endure the ordeal of two games in five days, something which Terry Venables avoided in the World Cup qualifying fixtures meetings before Hoddle took over.

Then the experiences of Poland and Norway under Graham Taylor were fresh in the mind. Thankfully, as the finals of '98 loom, those memories are beginning to look distant.