Hoddle happy with Italy friendly date

Glenn Hoddle, the England coach, yesterday maintained he had no problems about facing Italy in a friendly in France this summer in the middle of his side's two crucial World Cup qualifying matches against the Azzurri.

Hoddle was at the luxurious Hotel de Ville in the centre of Paris for the official launch of the four-nation Tournoi de France, which carries a prize of around pounds 625,000 for the winners.

He said he believed the June tournament involving France, England, Italy and Brazil would benefit England ahead of the 1998 World Cup.

"It will be a good experience for the players and for me to find out a bit more about ourselves in a tournament," Hoddle said. "I've only been in the job for six months and while qualifying for the World Cup is the important thing, I'm looking upon next summer as a dress rehearsal for 1998."

The fact that England will be playing Italy in the friendly in the middle of the two World Cup qualifiers next month and in October has aroused concern.

"As far as we are concerned it isn't a problem," Hoddle said. "We have to play Italy in the qualifiers but this will be totally different. When you're playing a World Cup game the result is all important, the only thing you can think about.

"In a friendly, even in a tournament, it gives you the chance to experiment, to look and see what you have, what options are available."

The Italian coach, Cesare Maldini, displayed a similar lack of concern. Maldini, who takes charge of the national team for the first time against Northern Ireland in Sicily next Wednesday, knows that the Wembley game on 12 February will be far more important.

"For us, like England, qualification is the prime objective and we know how big a game it will be at Wembley," he said. "We don't have to be told that England are a strong team. You only have to look at the likes of Shearer, Ferdinand and Beckham to see that."

TOURNOI DE FRANCE: 3 June France v Brazil (Lyon); 4 June Italy v England (Nantes); 7 June France v England (Montpellier); 8 June Brazil v Italy (Lyon); 10 June England v Brazil (Lens); 11 June France v Italy (Paris).