Football: Scholes doubt for England

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The Independent Online
The extent to which Glenn Hoddle's England have become an international team of genuine quality will be thoroughly tested in Montpellier tonight.

Italy may, or may not, have been in the mood on Wednesday night in Nantes, but there will be no questioning France's commitment. As hosts for next summer's World Cup, Le Tournoi de France is the nearest thing they are going to have to competitive football.

The match is an attractive one, not least because Glenn Hoddle is hoping to pair Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes in attack. While Shearer's partnership with Teddy Sheringham remains the first choice, Sheringham is 31, five years older than Shearer and nine years senior to Scholes, and will not be a key figure for too many more years.

The move is dependent on Scholes recovering from a tight hamstring which forced him to curtail training yesterday afternoon. It was, said Hoddle, probably a reaction to the effort that he had put in against Italy.

"I want to play him to see if he can reproduce that performance," the England coach said. "It will tell me more about his temperament under pressure. Once you have set a standard like that it is hard to maintain it. If he can I might think we have really found a player."

Rob Lee will also need a fitness test on a sore foot, but Paul Gascoigne will play. Martin Keown is ruled out with an arm injury and Paul Ince could be rested. Hoddle admitted he had left Shearer out on Wednesday as he did not want the Italians to get another look at him. "They have not seen the real Alan Shearer," he said - Shearer was carrying a groin injury when he played against Italy in February.

Shearer was very impressed with Scholes' full debut. "If it was not for Eric Cantona, he would be a regular for Manchester United and England by now," he said.

France have made eight changes from the side who drew 1-1 with Brazil on Tuesday more by application than inspiration. Among those left out is Zinedine Zidane, who looked jaded after a long season with Juventus. He was similarly tired and ineffectual during Euro '96 and his condition is a concern to the French as he is supposed to provide the midfield lock- picking which is so crucial at international level. This will especially apply to France next summer as they are the home team and will be under pressure to push forward.

This could help England's recent adoption of a counter-attacking style, though the French defence, marshalled by the superb Laurent Blanc, will be formidable. They have lost once in 34 matches, but need to win more often, to that end Youri Djorkaeff has been handed Zidane's playmaking role and Christophe Dugarry and Nicolas Ouedec are give a chance to end France's scoring problem.

England are based on the Atlantic coast in La Baule 520 miles from tonight's game in Montpellier. This is not the result of an FA blunder, but part of Hoddle's long-term planning. His intention is to recreate Bisham Abbey, England's Berkshire training base, in France next year.

To this end England are considering basing themselves here, an hour's drive from Nantes, and fly in and out for matches. For evening games they would fly in on the day and sleep in the afternoon. Hoddle said he often did this when he was playing for Monaco and would be asking the squad for their reaction.

ENGLAND (possible): Seaman; G Neville, Southgate, Campbell; Beckham, Lee or Le Saux, Batty, Gascoigne, P Neville; Scholes or Sheringham, Shearer.

FRANCE: Barthez; Thuram, Blanc, N'Gotty, Laigle; Deschamps, Vieira, Keller; Djorkaeff; Dugarry, Ouedec.

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