Hoddle reaps the reward of his solid foundations

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The Independent Online
Towards the end of last week a favoured investment among bettors of my acquaintance was that England would hold out for the point they needed to qualify automatically for next year's World Cup finals.

On the basis that defensive play in the Premiership generally is not up to much I could not see a great deal of sense in this but England proved in Rome that they are better at keeping the opposition at bay than many people dared to imagine.

Even if it was difficult to get a clear idea of England's shape from the television screen, around which some reporters crowded during a break in Saturday's boxing promotion at the Sheffield arena, you could soon tell that Italy were finding it extremely difficult to create chances.

A problem Glenn Hoddle shares with his predecessors is the crowd's natural desire, especially at Wembley, to see England pressing forward. Alf Ramsey spoke about this, so did Ron Greenwood and Terry Venables. "Even when the need for caution is pretty obvious the players are urged to be more adventurous and this puts extra pressure on them,'' Ramsey said.

In order to win matches the coach is required to instruct his players in matters of preference. In the circumstances Hoddle was in no danger of upsetting England's supporters with his holding tactics on Saturday and to his obvious delight the players responded accordingly. In fact, naivety is no longer something that he has to address in any great detail.

As Liverpool showed during a period of domination in European football, successful teams are founded on the realisation that football is played at both ends.

After just one match in the 1994 World Cup finals Brazil withdrew their playmaker Rai because his sorties were leaving them short-handed in midfield. Their fourth victory was not so much a triumph for individual expression as the result of sound organisation.

Like many other coaches Hoddle does not conform entirely to the style that made him famous. An extremely skilful footballer, he appreciates fully the need to establish a sound foundation even if this results in a pattern of play that brings down criticism.

Ramsey's World Cup winning team of 1966 was not fully in place until shortly before the finals and he would risk the public's wrath by leaving out Jimmy Greaves.

One of the things Hoddle must now deal with is the expectation that will grow up before the finals in France next summer.

On the eve of Saturday's match it was suggested on television that Hoddle would not survive if England lost in Rome and then failed to survive the play-off matches to which they would then have been committed. Favoured by popular prints, this is the sort of thinking that stood between English football and a structured management.

With the addition of Alan Shearer there is now plenty to suggest that England need not fear anyone although Hoddle will be seeking further advancement in technique and application.

However, before people get carried away they would do well to recall the events of 1970 when the most assured and confident team England have ever sent out lost to West Germany in the quarter finals after holding a two-goal lead with only 20 minutes left.

Beforehand, Alan Mullery said that England were fireproof. Then they lost Gordon Banks to sickness. One of the things that struck me from Saturday's match was how similar England looked in attitude to that team of 27 years ago. A different method but a similar air of certainty. If Hoddle gets the luck Ramsey was denied on foreign soil who knows where he can take them.

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