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.

Life and Style
health
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
News
people
Sport
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Guru Careers: C# Project Team Lead

£55 - 65k (DOE): Guru Careers: A unique opportunity for a permanent C# Develop...

Guru Careers: Graduate Editor / Editorial Assistant

£16 - 20k: Guru Careers: A Graduate Editor / Editorial Assistant is needed to ...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine