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Hoddle determined to keep minds on Moldova

Glenn Hoddle may have come to international management short on experience but his learning curve has been steep. In barely a year as England coach he has had to counsel players on alcoholism, drug abuse, wife beating, drink-driving and anger management. He has faced a constant parade of injuries, lost England's unbeaten home World Cup record, won a prestigious foreign tournament and helped orphans in Georgia. Through all this, he has retained his self-control and public respect. Tonight he is being tested by two new wildly differing situations which will again examine his personal and professional skills.

In normal circumstances tonight's World Cup qualifying tie with Moldova would be a formality - the only doubt would be about how many goals England score. These are unusual times, however and, though the country is returning to normal, tonight's game will inevitably be overshadowed by tragedy.

It is Hoddle's task to ensure his team behave appropriately while not losing their professional edge. To this end, he has been drawn into the FA's deliberations about such matters as when and if Elton John's Candle In The Wind tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, should be played.

Professionally he has also been dealing with a complex situation. Four England players, David Beckham, David Batty, Graeme Le Saux and Robert Lee, are carrying a yellow card and, if booked tonight, will miss England's final qualifying tie with Italy in Rome. With Alan Shearer out and Teddy Sheringham and Tony Adams already doubtful for that game, and further injuries almost inevitable, Hoddle can ill-afford to lose more players.

Leave them out then is the obvious suggestion. But it's not as simple as that. If England come second in the group, tonight's result could determine whether they qualify automatically as second place finishers or have to enter a play off. That is unlikely as Moldova will probably - but not definitely - come bottom of the group and their results be thus ruled after the reckoning.

There is another dilemma. If he does leave any of the quartet out, he is essentially telling them they cannot be trusted not to get booked. Beckham, having been suspended from England's game with Brazil after successive bookings in Le Tournoi, could especially feel that way.

Beckham was showing the loss of control that led to his booking on a selection of video clips presented to the team last week and Hoddle said: "I wanted to show that to him in front of everyone else. We had a good laugh about it but it has sunk home to him. He saw it with his own eyes.

"There are signs of a problem there and we need to stamp on it for him to progress as a player. He gets carried away with things he doesn't need to get carried away with. It's not just youthful enthusiasm, you don't see Gary Neville doing it."

More generally he added: "As a coach, you never want to look ahead to the next game but I am forced into that position. I have to pick a team to win this game while considering whether to protect the four or take a chance. They need to make sure they are not booked for something stupid like backchat or not going back 10 yards at a free-kick. Being booked for a mistimed tackle is part of life. We would have to live with that. If I start with any of them I will consider taking them off if a game is won."

With Batty the decision may be taken out of Hoddle's hands as he is struggling to overcome a foot injury. The only other doubt is Gary Pallister whose back remains sore.

The big question is who plays alongside Ian Wright in attack. Paul Scholes seems sure to start, but with so many midfielders facing possible suspension Hoddle may play behind Wright and Les Ferdinand. "Moldova are not strong in the air," Hoddle said. Even with Shearer, Sheringham and Robbie Fowler injured, he has several options.

By the kick-off, England will know how Italy fared in Georgia. "I don't expect anything but an Italian victory," Hoddle said.

By the time that result comes through, England will be attempting to put last week's tragedy at the back of their minds. "It's a professional thing, something within you," Hoddle said. "I've done it personally. I had a bereavement in the family and played the next day and scored. I just had to switch off. I learned it from the Liverpool lads I've played with for England. Some of the things they did between matches you would not recommend but an hour before kick-off they became different people. It was an eye-opener for me.

"Moldova will be tougher than some people think. They did not lose 8- 0 in Italy and held them at home for more than an hour. The perfect scenario will be to get the points and beat them heavily to give everyone a lift. But whether it's 7-0 or 1-0 the important thing is to win."

ENGLAND (probable, 3-5-2): Seaman; G Neville, Southgate, Campbell; Ripley or Beckham, Lee, Scholes, Gascoigne, Le Saux or P Neville; Wright, Ferdinand.