Hoddle looks for the positive

Football
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The Independent Online
Nothing, it seems, fazes Glenn Hoddle. Not the immediate prospect of going into today's World Cup qualifier in Moldova without a full complement of players, nor even the long-term danger of being vilified in the tabloids like his predecessors.

"We all know what is expected of us," he said here yesterday, "we all know what is at stake - qualifying for the World Cup. But it is only a football match. If we don't qualify I won't be shot, I won't be hung, drawn and quartered. But that's negative thinking and I have never indulged in that in my life. We are all very positive."

What Hoddle could not be upbeat about was the fitness of David Batty. He was, conceded Hoddle, "a major doubt". As the English coach is not given to hyperbole - he had said Teddy Sheringham, who pulled out on Friday, only had a "minor strain" - it suggests Batty is not far short of needing crutches.

He has yet to train properly on his injured ankle and it appears Newcastle may have been right when they tried to withdraw him from the squad last weekend.

If Batty is unfit Hoddle is reduced to 15 available outfield players - three of whom, Paul Gascoigne, Les Ferdinand and Paul Ince, have fitness doubts of their own. As he is allowed seven substitutes, that means making up the numbers with a third goalkeeper or one of the Under-21s. Since Nicky Butt, the obvious replacement, has already pulled out of the Under- 21 squad, he would have to turn to players of such inexperience as Lee Bowyer, Michael Brown or Emile Heskey.

If it does come to that Hoddle only has himself to blame. He had ample opportunity to summon replacements before England left. His desire for a small party recalls Terry Venables' early 18-man squads. By the end of his reign Venables was picking 25.

Batty's absence might mean a debut for David Beckham or Mark Draper or a recall for Matt Le Tissier. Alternatively Sol Campbell or Gareth Southgate could be drafted into midfield. Southgate is the obvious candidate, except Hoddle wants him to play as sweeper.

Sheringham is likely to be replaced by Nick Barmby - who filled in well in a similarly tricky match - in China. He has also started the season in form, unlike Le Tissier who could also occupy that role.

So far the team have avoided the horror stories of Wales' trip here. Their hotel is a standard international one, there is hot water, decent sized beds, and a reasonable restaurant.

The team had flown in to a dark and empty land. Whole towns appeared lit by a pair of streetlamps with little evidence of lighting indoors. The capital is more modern but it is still a place where the many trees have white-painted trunks to help drivers follow the path of the road.

Moldova is one of the countries which emerged from the break up of the Soviet Union. Bordered by the Ukraine and Romania its 4.3 million citizens are primarily Romanian in origin. The national team, however, communicate in Russian - a third of the side are ethnic Russians who do not speak Moldovan well. The Moldovan players had to learn Russian in school. This is something of an irony since yesterday was the day Moldovans celebrated the fifth anniversary of restoring their own language (identical to Romanian) as the national tongue.

This is all incidental to Hoddle who is more interested in establishing a dialogue with his own players - many of whom he only met this week. "It is strange," he said. "For a week they are your players but they're not really yours. On Monday they go back to their clubs. I doubt if you would get used to that if you did it for another 10 years. But it is a wonderful feeling to pick from the best in the country and try and mould that talent into a team.

"It is the quality of player which is exciting. As a coach you watch a match and think 'that ball's on'. When we had an eight-a-side on Thursday, nine times out of ten the player on the ball hit that ball and that's exciting.

"No disrespect to the players at Chelsea but that only happened four or five times out of ten there. I'm excited about the game, not nervous, just excited. That's how it should be."

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