Football: Wright and Sheringham at front of phoney war

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The day before the day before an England match is always a phoney war and is not to be taken too seriously, certainly not in a city, shell-pocked and short of electricity, where they have known a real one. You knew the day was going to get off to a surreal start when a bagpiper - not arranged by Paul Gascoigne - woke the jet-lagged players in the team's hotel at midday.

Glenn Hoddle knows his captain and his team for tomorrow's World Cup qualifying match against Georgia, but is not saying yet. Thus it becomes a question of looking for clues to the major issues: who will be the striker(s) now that Alan Shearer is injured? Will Tony Adams replace him as captain (and this correspondent says he will)? Will that piper ever bloody pipe down?

Yesterday Teddy Sheringham was called upon to meet the press and Hoddle talked up Ian Wright. The pair for Saturday perhaps, despite the belief that Les Ferdinand, who played against Poland last month, will surely start? Or misinformation for the eager, friendly Georgian journalists enjoying such openness when their own coach, Alexander Chivadze, is apparently of the Pandora Maxwell school of press relations?

"There is not a player sharper in the Premiership than Ian Wright at present," Hoddle said. "He has great awareness in his running off the ball, added to pace, and still has that killer instinct to score goals." It surely sounded like a pointer, though his predecessor Terry Venables' policy of not being swayed by flavours of the month was ultimately vindicated. Wright's alacrity has brought him 13 goals this season. In European competition, his instincts have brought him 13 goals in 15 matches, but at international level only five in 20. Four were against San Marino, the other as a substitute in a World Cup qualifier in Poland.

In the Premiership, the ball over the top of a defence has reaped handsome rewards and in Europe pace on the counter-attack is invaluable. The massed, positionally astute ranks at international level, where Wright's touch has been exposed as often uncertain, can negate his strength, however.

Surely Sheringham should start, though. His thoughtful worth was finally confirmed during Euro 96, while against Poland last month, when still not fully match fit despite being a substitute, the situation cried out for his deep-lying ability to link midfield and attack. It is an art that often goes unappreciated when compared to all the explosive striking talents the wide-open English game spawns.

"As long as my team-mates and managers appreciate me, that's all that matters," Sheringham said. "I am not the sort of guy that picks up the ball on the half-way line, goes past five players and boots it into the top corner. There are different aspects to my game." They are? "That's for me to know and everyone to find out." It was that sort of day.

Whoever Hoddle perms from the six strikers in the squad, he believes that any two should do. "It is a difficult task to blend the right ones for the right night," he said. "Alan Shearer has all-round ability. With the others you have to look at their good points, where the weaknesses of the opposition are and see which striker can capitalise on that.

"There is an array of talent, a cutting edge to us," he added. "I always think we are going to score." Wouldn't you know it, the team promptly went on to a training session at the crumbling Lokomotiv Stadium where it seemed a cow's backside would have been safe even if the England players had been a pace away armed with a banjo.

Whatever the personnel, it does seem certain that Hoddle will persist with three at the back. The left wing-back of the coach's first two games, Andy Hinchcliffe, was also made available for interview and spoke of his admiration for the system. "The position helped me," he said. "You can get forward more and you always have the numbers behind to help out."

Hoddle's main worry yesterday appeared to concern the pitch in the Boris Paichaidze Stadium. It was bumpy and patchy, he said, "though it won't suit Georgia either, because they are a technical side." It was also the day before the day before an away match in a developing country.

England Under-21 team, Digest, page 27