Gascoigne poised to banish demons

WORLD CUP FOOTBALL: Coach warns against any complacency at Wembley even though Poland appear to be in disarray; Hoddle has the luxury of choice
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Send in the clowns? No, just the comic genius himself. That means Paul Gascoigne rather than David Baddiel or Frank Skinner, who will be preceding him on to the Wembley turf tonight.

Gascoigne, now fit and as full of desire as ever, remains the central figure in England's football more than six years after he rose to prominence in Italy. Tonight, against England's one-time nemesis Poland, he can steer his country past the second hurdle on the way to France and the 1998 World Cup.

Poland are riven by feuds, low in confidence and thin in quality. England should win with ease. Even Glenn Hoddle, seeking, like all England managers, to build up the opposition, could only say of them that they were "difficult to beat".

But England should not be complacent. Though few of the players are old enough to remember clearly the "clown" as Brian Clough christened Jan Tomaszewski, all will be aware of the Polish goalkeeper whose Wembley performance denied England a World Cup place 23 years ago.

Hoddle himself was an apprentice at Tottenham then, just 10 days short of his 16th birthday. As he walks out for his first Wembley match as the England coach tonight, he may prefer to recall another match, surprisingly the only one he played against Poland, 13 years later. On a hot afternoon in Monterrey, England won 3-0 to revive their Mexico World Cup campaign.

His counterpart tonight has less happy memories of that day. Antoni Piechniczek was the manager of Poland then and he has only recently regained the job. He inherited a team which is a pale shadow of the side he steered to third in the 1982 World Cup. The heirs to Zbigniew Boniek, Grzegorz Lato and Wladislaw Zmuda are few and far between.

The leading pretender to their crown, Borussia Monchengladbach's Andrzej Juskowiak, refuses to play. The goalkeepers, while not clowns, are engaged in a black comedy of their own. Both Andrzej Wozniak, Victor Baia's successor at Porto, and Maciej Szczesny insist that, if they are not the chosen as No 1, they will refuse to play again.

However, as he prepares to exchange pennants, Alan Shearer may recall last season's Champions' League. His Blackburn side were beaten and held at home by Legia Warsaw, while Krzysztof Warzycha scored the Panathinaikos goal that beat Ajax in the first leg of the semi-final.

The identity of Shearer's partner will be the main source of interest when Glenn Hoddle names his team shortly before kick-off. That, and his reaction to Steve McManaman's return from injury.

Hoddle has a rare luxury, for an England coach, of being able to name an unchanged team if he wants. Yet, although England played well enough in Moldova, he is unlikely to do so. While Nick Barmby may retain his place as Shearer's partner, McManaman must be incorporated somewhere. The problem is that the midfield trio of Gascoigne, Paul Ince and David Beckham looked good in Chisinau. The first two places are inviolate, while Beckham's promise promotes his retention.

There are several other options. Hoddle has been wondering aloud about changing his previously gospel 3-5-2 formation. If so, he could withdraw Gary Neville to right-back, play either Stuart Pearce or Andy Hinchcliffe at left-back, (dropping the other) and let McManaman roam the flanks. He could stick with a three and simply replace Hinchcliffe with McManaman. Or he could use Neville in a three, drop Pearce and let McManaman play on the right.

Then there is Matt Le Tissier. Will he play? If so where? Midfield, rather than second striker seems his role - Beckham stands in the way.

With Beckham still returning to fitness Barmby - a "clever player" said Hoddle - may see off Les Ferdinand although, as the Newcastle partnership develops, Ferdinand's case for inclusion will surely be strengthened.

Hoddle will be having a quiet word before the game about discipline. The bookings are going to add up, as Scotland - without Gary McAllister in Estonia tonight - and Wales, who missed Ryan Giggs through suspension on Saturday and lose Mark Hughes next month, have already found. England had Pearce and Ince cautioned in Moldova, and Hoddle said: "Bookings are inevitable but we have to look at where they are incurred - there is no threat on the half-way line.

"The changes have been made for the right reasons. At times referees can go a bit overboard, a bit of common sense is required, but players and managers have to look at themselves as well as referees."

England are more likely to be on the receiving end of tackles tonight. "They are a very disciplined, hard side," Hoddle said. "They look to hit people on the break. A point will be a good result for them.

"If there is frustration, the players will have to deal with it. You want the supporters with you but there comes a time in a game when, if it isn't going well you have to be strong enough to switch off [from the crowd]. You have to cocoon yourself and keep focused on the things that will get you the result."

It may take time but, in front of a lively full house, England should get that result, with Gascoigne the most likely provider.

POLAND (possible; 1-3-5-1): Wozniak (Porto, Por); Zielinski (Legia Warsaw); Wegrzyn (GKS Katowice), Jozwiak (Guingamp, Fr), Wojtala (Widzew Lodz); Michalski (Widzew Lodz), Brzeczek (FC Tyrol, Aut), Nowak (1860 Munich, Ger), Citko (Widzew Lodz), Hajto (Gornik Zabrze); Warzycha (Panathinaikos, Gr).

Poland rely on spirit, page 30


v Poland

at Wembley tonight, kick-off 8pm