Le Saux returns in time for Italy

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As a player Glenn Hoddle had only a brief encounter with Italy, 27 minutes of a meaningless 1985 friendly in Mexico City. As a manager his fate is as entwined with the Azzurri as Marcello Mastroianni was with Anita Ekberg.

Yesterday he embarked on the first of two matches which could decide whether England or Italy will be enjoying the sweet life at next year's World Cup in France. The England coach preached a policy of respect, not fear, positivity and not arrogance. He then embodied that with his squad selection for the Wembley tie on 12 February. There were no surprises, no experiments, no controversies. Hoddle's first three squads each revolved around a cause celebre. First there was the recall of the enigmatic Matt Le Tissier. Then that of the reformed addict Paul Merson. Last time out he chose the alleged wife-beater Paul Gascoigne.

Yesterday's central figure was Graeme Le Saux, who may be able to spell cause celebre with the accents in the right places but is hardly likely to become one. Also recalled are Rob Lee, Tim Flowers and, of course, Alan Shearer.

Le Saux returns to the squad for the first time since suffering a horrific ankle ligament injury in December 1995. He had just won his 12th cap and was an automatic choice for the Euro 96 squad. Since getting back into the Blackburn side he has played 11 games and gradually found form. With Andy Hinchcliffe injured and Phil Neville ill, his return is timely.

"The three-month gap since we last played has been timely for Graeme, as it has allowed him to recover and recapture some form," Hoddle said.

Lee, who was last seen on England duty in China in May, comes in for the injured David Platt while Teddy Sheringham also drops out from the previous squad. His ankle injury means Hoddle is still unable to pair him with Shearer, who missed the trip to Georgia for a minor groin operation.

Shearer will not necessarily regain the captain's role from Tony Adams - Hoddle said he will decide who leads the team after speaking to both players. Tim Flowers also returns - it is the first time he has been included under Hoddle and brings the goalkeeping complement to four. Play them all and even Gianfranco Zola may struggle to score. Stopping Zola may be Hoddle's main concern, but he was not getting carried away yesterday.

"For every question I get about Zola, Cesare Maldini will get questions about Shearer and [Steve] McManaman. It is time to be positive but without being arrogant. We always think we are underdogs in this sort of match. It won't be easy but we have nothing to fear.''

Zola has scored in every Premiership match except when he has been man- marked and Hoddle said: "Man-marking can be a major advantage but it is not like the old days. You can't stand in someone's shirt anymore. If someone is being marked I would tell them to spend the first 10 minutes of the game trying to get their opponent booked. That changes things.''

Hoddle is unlikely to mark Zola but will instead have David Batty and Paul Ince sitting in front of a back three. With Italy playing a sweeper and two markers, he may be tempted to brush down Terry Venables' Christmas tree and play Paul Merson and McManaman behind Shearer. That would leave Paul Gascoigne, who hopes to be fit but still has his ankle in plaster, on the bench.

As Hoddle noted, "the result will not decide the group" but a victory would take him a long way towards being able to savour la dolce vita when he visits Rome for the return in October.

n Bobby Gould, the Wales manager, was caught out yesterday when he tried to name a squad for the friendly against the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff on 11 February. He included two players, Wrexham's Andy Marriott and Swansea's Christian Edwards, who are required by their clubs. A revised squad will be named today. The Everton goalkeeper, Neville Southall, has asked to be excluded.


v Italy, at Wembley, 12 February

Seaman (Arsenal), Walker (Tottenham), James (Liverpool), Flowers (Blackburn); Southgate (Aston Villa), Matteo (Liverpool), Pearce (Nottingham Forest), Le Saux (Blackburn), G Neville (Manchester Utd), Adams (Arsenal), Campbell (Tottenham), Ince (Internazionale), Gascoigne (Rangers), Beckham (Manchester Utd), McManaman (Liverpool), Batty (Newcastle), Lee (Newcastle), Merson (Arsenal), Barmby (Everton), Wright (Arsenal), Ferdinand (Newcastle), Le Tissier (Southampton), Shearer (Newcastle), Fowler (Liverpool).