Football: Poles twist the tale
Norman Fox says that Naples will be just as vital to England as Wembley
Sunday 27 April 1997
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.
Latest in Sport
Arsenal have no plans to stock Petr Cech inspired caps in club shops - yet
Petr Cech blasts Chelsea supporters who sent him death threats after £11m Arsenal transfer: 'They are not true fans'
Nathaniel Clyne joins Liverpool: Transfer news live - Arda Turan decision, Petr Cech reaction, Sergio Ramos to Manchester United
Christian Benteke to Liverpool: Aston Villa striker ready to reject Tottenham
Arda Turan announcement expected on Friday: Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United possible destinations
- 1 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 2 Greece crisis: Alexis Tsipras accepts troika bailout proposals with conditions
- 3 German ethics council calls for incest between siblings to be legalised by Government
- 4 French woman dies in freak bungee jumping accident
- 5 Facebook rainbow profile pictures likely being tracked by social network
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Pentagon accuses Russia of 'playing with fire' over nuclear threats towards Nato
They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS
£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...
£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...
£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...