Football: Le Tissier misses the chance to justify faith

Mike Rowbottom on a bad night for the playmaker from Southampton
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The Independent Online
To select Matt Le Tissier against Italy at such a crucial juncture in the World Cup qualifying campaign appeared nothing less than an act of faith on behalf of England's devout coach, Glenn Hoddle.

His prayers were ultimately in vain, however, as Southampton's mercurial midfielder - earning his eighth cap after an absence of two years - failed to make a telling impression and was substituted on the hour.

The revelation of Hoddle's tactics earlier in the day - obligingly laid out for BBC Radio Guernsey by Karl Le Tissier as he expanded on the previous night's phone call from his brother - had caused consternation in FA circles. "What an idiot," was the first reaction of at least one official.

"Am I my brother's keeper?" might have been an appropriate reaction from Southampton's favourite son, whose "close relationship" with Hoddle - Karl's words - can hardly have been helped by such an indiscretion.

But if Karl was in the doghouse, brother Matt was officially off the lead and given freedom to roam. As the rain came down before the kick- off, the question was whether Le Tissier's would be a floating role or a sinking role.

It took only a few minutes for the languid Le Tiss to demonstrate that he intended to swim rather than sink . Within seven minutes he had supplied both of England's wings with telling passes.

The first was distributed to Graeme Le Saux, his fellow Guernsey islander. The second ball drilled down the right wing for David Beckham after an initial shot had been charged down earned him an encouraging clap from his captain, Alan Shearer.

Just after the quarter hour there was a fleeting moment of anticipation as Stuart Pearce's cross gave Le Tissier a brief sight at goal, but blue- shirted defenders arrived to spoil the view.

A minute after Italy had gone ahead, television screens around the stadium flashed up the evening's winning National Lottery numbers. With England and their supporters suddenly becalmed, the odds on Hoddle's gamble had lengthened dramatically. This was the testing time for Le Tissier if he was to show he was capable of flourishing in adversity.

His demeanour, that of a man who has just staggered in exhausted from a mountainside - did not change. But he persevered gamely, and six minutes from half-time he found himself in another promising position as Beckham's cross came in from the right. But the ball, however, dropped awkwardly for him and he was not able to turn on it.

Two minutes later he was presented with something better than a half chance as a long ball from David Batty drifted in front of Italy's keeper, Angelo Peruzzi. Le Tissier got there first but his glancing header bounced a yard wide of the post as the net stood empty. He body-punched the air in his frustration.

His next significant contribution, two minutes into the second half was equally frustrating as he converged on another Beckham cross with Shearer. Net result - no net result. The shoulders slumped and the roaming took on a distinctly dogged quality.

As Les Ferdinand stood on the touchline waiting to be brought on after 60 minutes, Le Tissier must have known that the card about to appear would bear the number 10. It did.

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