Hosts can claim the crown but I fear for England

Jack Charlton believes France's multi-talented team can win - provided they beat the boredom
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The Independent Online
FIVE weeks from now a very privileged group of players will be celebrating their victory in the World Cup final. It will be some time before it hits home exactly what they have achieved. I remember it was well after England's victory in 1966 that someone told me that for all the millions of people who walk this earth only a handful are able to call themselves world champions. It put our achievement into some perspective for me and since then I have always looked at my medal in a new light.

This is the first World Cup for 32 years in which I have not been involved either as a player, manager or television pundit. I'm going to sit down in front of my television at my home in Ireland and watch every single game. Then I'll be glued to all the analysis and join in every argument. I won't be able to stop myself because this is the biggest tournament in the world and the interest and coverage will be massive.

Back in '66 we were lucky to get a mention on the news bulletin but now you can't escape from it all. It puts more pressure on the team that will eventually come through, but at the same time winning the trophy will mean all the more because of it.

The biggest problem for a manager during the World Cup is boredom. After training there is not a lot the players can do: they can't sit around the bars and they can't have a drink anyway. With Ireland in 1990 and 1994 we organised a few quizzes and games of bingo. There are also videos to keep the players occupied. Other than that they spend a lot of time in their rooms - most of it on the telephone. The telephone bill at a team hotel during the World Cup has to be seen to be believed.

In '66 the players were bored to death. We were holed up at Lilleshall and Nobby Stiles and I used to take a walk up to the main gates and look at the cars whizzing by, hoping they might take us to somewhere a bit more exciting.

In 1970 in Mexico Alf Ramsey used to get notes pushed under his hotel door claiming the players were up to all kind of wrongdoing. We never nailed the culprit - we called him "The Thumb" - but we suspect it was one member of the squad enjoying a bit of mischief.

All you can hope is that the hard work and the long hours wishing time away will pay off in the end. I remember sitting in the Wembley dressing- room after the game with Germany and Our Kid saying there was nothing left to achieve. Of course there is - you can go out and win the World Cup all over again - but this is the pinnacle of anyone's career.

My medal was in a red and black box, an ordinary package containing an extraordinary prize. It's locked away in a steel box, inside a steel cabinet inside something seriously secure and I get it out every now and then. I last saw the medal a fortnight ago because we had some people staying with us and they were interested. It was the first time I had seen it for four years and it brought back all the lovely memories.

Over the coming weeks we will be able to see most of the world's greatest players. That is what lifts the World Cup above the European Championship and the domestic competitions. We have a fair idea who will light up the stage - Romario, Batistuta, Del Piero, Zidane, Bergkamp, Shearer, the list is endless. Some will come from nowhere to take the world by storm. Michael Owen might come into that category: he has that precious asset, explosive pace, to thrive in these surroundings.

Teams evolve as the tournament goes on. I remember in '66 being very confident in Jimmy Greaves' ability to score the goals for us, but in the event because of injury and selection we did not see him when the knock-out phase began. Martin Peters was another who would not have expected to play many games at the start.

Brazil will be most people's favourites to come out on top this year. You never know how other teams will handle them, but I think European sides now deal with the South Americans better than we've ever done. We get amongst them, where before we used to stand back and admire their skills.

We haven't heard much about the Germans in the build-up but they are always a threat. The Italians might not be as strong as in the past but they'll still need watching. Argentina were very impressive when they played in Dublin the other week. And the Dutch have enough outstanding names to win every World Cup standing on their heads; their downfall is that they always find some upset or excuse to destroy themselves.

For a wager I'll probably go for France. In the warm-up games they have not scored many goals but then they have not been giving many away either. They have Zinedine Zidane, the players from Arsenal and Chelsea, and a squad so good they can afford to leave out David Ginola.

What of England? When we won in 1966 Alf Ramsey was able to call on world- class players like Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore and a goalkeeper in Gordon Banks who was utterly reliable. I don't see too many of that calibre in the present group, although Alan Shearer could be world class - and probably will be if he gets the right service and support. I'm also a big fan of David Seaman.

Three months ago I was really confident about our chances but now I'm not so sure. There seem to be too many problems, too many ifs and buts, surrounding the squad. By now everybody in the country should be able to name Glenn Hoddle's first-choice team but that's not the case. And with Paul Gascoigne omitted there is now even more of a question mark over the midfield area.