Hoddle: 'We can win World Cup'

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The Independent Online
GLENN HODDLE spoke defiantly about England's World Cup prospects yesterday as his squad made ready for today's flight out to France.

England's preparations for the tournament, which gets under way tomorrow, have been disrupted in the last week by the furore over Teddy Sheringham's nightclubbing indiscretions. And yesterday Hoddle had to announce that two of his squad of 22 have been unable to train with their colleagues at Bisham Abbey - Sol Campbell, still recovering from the effects of a dead leg, and Graeme Le Saux, who has spent two days in bed with flu.

However, the England coach was adamant that the players who will start their final match practice this afternoon with an informal game against a Caen XI were better prepared than those of any other team - and confident with it.

"I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't think we could win it," he said. "And I think the players believe we can win it."

He dealt dismissively with the suggestion that he has had to rally his troops following the unsettling events of recent days. "I have not needed to say anything about it," he said. "So there, you have your answer."

He also settled the speculation over the question of whether he had decided upon his first-choice XI. "I know my line-up, if they are all fit and able," he said.

Hoddle acknowledged that there was heightened expectation in the country. "I like that - and I think it's [something] the players will enjoy as well. I think it's going to be a tight World Cup. Probably tighter than ever. We can go with a lot of optimism. Whether we will win it remains to be seen - I think there are eight or nine countries that have the quality to do that.

"But it's an exciting time for the country; wherever we travel now, people are waiting for us. Just coming to the training ground they were outside their houses because they know the route we take. It gives us a buzz and there was a real excitement in training today, you could tell. There was an edge to the play. I think the players just can't wait to get out there."

That in itself has presented Hoddle with a problem of England's first match, against Tunisia, which does not come until five days after the opening game between Brazil and Scotland. "Because we don't play until the 15th," Hoddle said. "It's like having a good horse three furlongs out. You have to hold it up your sleeve for a little while."

Asked to list the factors which give him optimism for the forthcoming competition, Hoddle mentioned the squad's mixture of youth and experience, their qualification from a difficult group and the experience of playing and winning in the Tournoi last year against Brazil, France and Italy. "It's not going to be the same as this tournament, obviously, but it was a barometer," Hoddle said.

On the negative side was the squad's lack of any player with World Cup experience, something he acknowledged as a "massive bonus" for other teams in England's first-round group.

"But I think the positives outweigh the negatives. So I don't think we should be going there with any fear. Plenty of respect for the new rules, plenty of respect for our opponents. But no fear. Because if, as a group of people, you get any fear, you are on a downward spiral."

While Hoddle did not go so far as to ascribe that emotion to either of his own World Cup campaigns as a player in 1982 and 1986, he did contrast attitudes in the past with those he was trying to engender now.

"Sometimes in the past we might have gone in there with an attitude of 'Well, we're not quite sure how it's going to go.' It's a situation where you are putting things into neutral rather than going through the gears. I think we are more positive than that now on the back of getting to the Euro 96 semi-final and taking in the results we have achieved away from Wembley since then."

He hoped the players would be able to draw upon the World Cup experience of the coaching staff, who also include Kenny Sansom and Ray Clemence. His own experiences had prepared him for a variety of fortunes in the forthcoming competition. In 1982, after a dream start, England went slowly downhill, whereas in 1986 they began disastrously before picking up a momentum that none had anticipated.

"If we have a bad start we won't be pressing the panic button," Hoddle said. "We have to keep an even keel."

The team's final preparations at Bisham Abbey yesterday were briefly interrupted by the arrival of a large sausage in England colours. The man inside the outfit - which was publicising a brand of salami - was apprehended by security staff. But it may be of some concern to Hoddle the way he was allowed to creep in on the blind side of England defences...

Scholes in the spotlight, page 31