Football: Poles twist the tale

Norman Fox says that Naples will be just as vital to England as Wembley

Virtually everyone said that even though Italy only won 1-0 at Wembley last February, in reality they walked all over England. But Glenn Hoddle felt obliged to claim that they had done no such thing. He said that England were the better side and had every chance of beating Italy to the automatic qualifying spot in World Cup Group Two. Possibly he still believes it, but it would be surprising if on Wednesday he is not just as concerned about Poland taking points off Italy in Naples as England beating Georgia at Wembley.

The outcome of this crucial parallel match in the group could assist, frustrate or all but destroy any hopes Hoddle has of taking the direct route to France for the 1998 finals rather than the complicated qualifying system for runners-up. Victory for Italy and defeat for England would see him searching for the prayer mat. The only compensation would be that the dangerous Poles would be kept at bay for that runners-up spot.

Hoddle says he thought the recent goalless draw between Poland and Italy in Chorzow provided "a glimmer of light that could allow opportunities". The best opportunity he can hope for is that results become so favourable that come October, England will go to Italy knowing exactly what they need to do. But by then Italy could well be on the way to complete recovery from the depression that they suffered under Arrigo Sacchi.

The way their 64-year-old new coach, Cesare Maldini, has been engineering Italy's return to a style of play that comes naturally - keeping the opposition under control in the middle and never risking too much going forward - Hoddle's hope of automatic qualification is not one on which to risk a heavy gamble. Poland, as always, are the problem team - the one nobody likes to play; one with a record of destroying other people's hopes, not least those of England. They expect to remain unbeaten at home throughout the qualifying group matches. Then the group would really be tough.

The Poles are used to being underestimated. So they could assist England this week by standing firm against the Italians. Standing firm and breaking out quickly from defence is what the Poles do well. Indeed, they could have beaten Italy earlier this month were it not for the fact that their clever play-maker, Piotr Nowak, was injured in the first half and missed the second.

If all managers need to have luck, Maldini certainly had his share in Chorzow, but under his direction Italy now seem to have shed the misgivings that developed under Sacchi, who had brought confusion with his tactics. Now, Italy are playing more comfortably. Maldini may not have made sweeping changes in the squad but he likes to use a sweeper, without which Italian international teams are never really content. Surprisingly, he has given Alessandro Costacurta the job. The Milan player, who had no serious experience in the role, joined with Fabio Cannavaro, of Parma, to subdue Alan Shearer at Wembley.

Maldini is intending to use a settled squad more purposefully than Sacchi. He is also experiencing that comfortable early period of an international manager's career when a point away from home, as in Chorzow, is interpreted by fans and press as one gained. Even if this week he has to be without Gianfranco Zola and needs to recall Roberto Baggio after nearly 18 months, the feeling of continuity in style is unlikely to be badly broken.

The Poles are unlikely to win but are gaining confidence, partly because they are reassured by their remaining matches - their last two are against Moldova and Georgia - but also because they are building on the predictions of their coach, Antoni Piechniczek, who expects Italy to qualify, but doubts whether England will finish ahead of Poland. His reason - "England have not got the right players" - sounds a little short on detail. Perhaps he means that with Paul Gascoigne in decline, England have no one with the creative talent of Nowak or Marek Citko.

Meanwhile, even without Zola, Italy contain enough talent to win on Wednesday. They also - at last - seem to have that talent properly organised.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before