McCarthy responds to Hamilton's late call

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The Independent Online
Jon McCarthy has been drafted into Northern Ireland's depleted squad for today's friendly match against Italy in Palermo.

The national manager, Bryan Hamilton, asked the Port Vale player to fly out to Sicily yesterday morning, after changing his mind about calling for reinforcements in the absence of such leading players as Keith Gillespie and Neil Lennon.

McCarthy, who has only two caps, was joined on the early morning flight by the West Ham pair Michael Hughes and Keith Rowland after the Londoners' 2-0 Premiership defeat against Leeds.

Hamilton was especially looking forward to their arrival since Arsenal's Stephen Morrow is the only other Premiership player in his squad for the game which represents the new Italian coach Cesare Maldini's only chance to assess his players before the vital World Cup qualifier against England at Wembley on 12 February.

Winning over Italy's passionate support is will be high on Maldini's agenda. Gianfranco Zola, the Italy forward now at Chelsea, said: "One of our first objectives is to get the supporters closer to the national team. There has not been a peaceful climate between us and the players have felt it.

"First of all we must play for them, then for ourselves. We must make the people love the Italian side."

Zola has settled in quickly at Stamford Bridge and is completely at ease in his new surroundings, unlike his Italian team-mate Gianluca Vialli.

Vialli, however, has pledged his future to Chelsea and Zola said: "It is not a stormy relationship between Luca and Ruud Gullit. I have never seen them argue. Certainly Luca is not happy on the bench but no player in his position would be."

Zola added: "I like London. I really can live a life as a normal person with my family. My relationship with the fans is one of the most pleasing things in my English experience."

n The Belgium coach, Wilfried Van Moer, has been dismissed after just nine months in charge and replaced by Georges Leekens, the coach of Mouscron. Van Moer was sacked principally because of a humiliating 3-0 home defeat by the Netherlands in a World Cup qualifier last month and also because of communication problems with players and the media.

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