After an intense qualifying campaign, the first friendly of Hoddle's reign would have appeared to represent an opportunity for him to experiment in a more relaxed atmosphere. Instead, for what he sees as the beginning of a serious six-match build-up, the squad of 25 he announced on Friday is largely that which secured the precious draw in Italy last month.
The changes see the form-horses Andy Cole and Chris Sutton replace Les Ferdinand and Stan Collymore, though these are forced upon Hoddle by injury. In addition, the West Ham defender Rio Ferdinand steps up from the Under- 21 squad for what is likely to be the full debut that was denied him against Moldova in September by his drink-driving case.
"There will be continuity in the squads," said Hoddle of his policy for the coming months as he works towards his final 22 next June. "There will not be massive changes for change's sake. It is important to keep the continuity going to the World Cup. If you are struggling you are maybe going to make some changes but we haven't been. We have been on course and we have been improving so why change something that's working? There will be opportunities coming up but I am more interested in the shape of the team. Individuals we know about."
After next week, international football goes into hibernation until February, and it is then that Hoddle's England - who will confirm their opponents after the World Cup draw in Marseille on 4 December - are likely to take on a more varied look.
Matthew Le Tissier, Jamie Redknapp and Darren Anderton can all expect to figure, Hoddle making a point of mentioning them by name in discussing the omissions. "They haven't played enough games yet," he said. "I didn't want them rushing back and not doing themselves justice." Beyond them, it becomes difficult to see who might yet figure, though a place will always be held open for Alan Shearer.
While the squad for next week may not have changed drastically, it is likely that the team will take on a few different aspects. As Hoddle recognises, he needs to blood those who have been squad players so that should they need to be thrown in at the finals, the experience will not overwhelm them.
Rio Ferdinand will probably be chief among the changes, possibly replacing a resting Tony Adams. Andy Hinchcliffe, as the only natural left-footer in the squad, might also expect to replace the injured Graeme Le Saux. Nicky Butt, Steve McManaman and Paul Merson look likely to appear at some stage while Hoddle will probably also want to observe a new striking partnership, being well aware of Teddy Sheringham and Ian Wright's virtues. Robbie Fowler has been waiting a while.
Much will depend on how Hoddle approaches the match. It could be that he departs from his preferred 3-5-2 formation to a 4-4-2 as preparation for a time when the real need arises. African opponents have deliberately been chosen for the possibilities next summer, though Hoddle knows little about them.
Cameroon are in the process of rebuilding after a disappointing World Cup finals of 1994 and failing to reach the last African Nations finals, though they have qualified for the next in February. Now based on the Under-20 teams that won the African Championships in 1993 and 1995, they should provide good opposition. Their coach Henri Depireux having departed only in July, they are now under the charge of Jean Manga Onguene, an African Player of the Year in 1990, who has been assistant to three Cameroon managers and is now getting his chance.
He saw them through the latter stages of their successful World Cup qualifying campaign, which included a victory over Zimbabwe in which their leading striker Patrick M'Boma scored twice. The team is captained by the goalkeeper Jacques Songo'o of Deportivo La Coruna.
"Normally we know everything about the other team but this one is a bit of an unknown quantity," said Hoddle. "It might be a good idea to go in without a pre-conceived idea and see how everyone adjusts to it. It's a nice challenge." Indeed, with Wembley likely to give unqualified support to its qualified team and several unpredictable elements in the offing, an interesting evening is promised.Reuse content