World Cup: England keen to pass real test

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The Independent Online
THE FRENCH put a rocket into space from Toulouse. Tonight Glenn Hoddle would settle for launching England towards the second stage of the World Cup. Having achieved a comfortable if undemanding victory over Tunisia last week, England now face the first genuine test of their potential. Romania may be not be the force of USA 94 when their victory over Argentina was one of the tournament's highlights but, as their near-perfect qualifying record showed, they still have players of quality and experience.

England, who flew into this ancient city yesterday afternoon and trained at the Stade Municipal last night, are full of confidence. Collectively they feel well-prepared and capable of victory. Individually they are aware that this is their chance to seize the moment. The sight of David Beckham on the bench in Marseilles was a reminder of the standards required to keep their places.

Beckham is likely to remain on the bench tonight. The feeling is that, while Darren Anderton has certainly played better than he did last Monday, he will grow stronger with every game and adds pace and a goal threat to England's right flank.

He may not last the match, though. With temperatures remaining high across France - and Toulouse, only 60 miles from the Spanish border, is very hot and humid - substitutions could prove important even with an evening kick-off. As a wing-back against a team strong on the overlap, Anderton is likely to do more work than most.

The team which defeated Tunisia 2-0 may be unchanged. Gareth Southgate has been declared fit after proving his fitness during a training session at the squad's training camp in La Baule yesterday morning.

Southgate was on the sidelines for three days after picking up ankle and foot injuries in training on Tuesday. He was back in training yesterday and, unless he suffers an adverse reaction today, Hoddle maintains the Aston Villa defender will be able to face Romania.

"Gareth has come through a good session in La Baule this morning," Hoddle said yesterday, "and we are hoping if he doesn't get a poor reaction overnight then he should be fit. He trained very well."

If Southgate is not risked, Gary Neville is the likely replacement, though Martin Keown is a possibility. Unlucky to be dropped in the first place, Neville's comfort in wider positions would actually strengthen England, who were occasionally exposed down the flanks against Tunisia - as teams with wing-backs often are.

Romania play a similar style so England will be looking to get behind and around them - another reason for Anderton's inclusion on the right and the basis for what is likely to be a lively tussle between Graeme Le Saux and Dan Petrescu on England's left.

John Gorman, the England coach, who has watched Romania three times, said: "They have tremendous flair, the movement out wide is excellent and they are mobile. [Gheorghe] Hagi is always a threat. He has so much ability. But they give teams a chance."

Though Romania are the seeded team in Group G, England will start favourites. Romania have a highly promising striker in Adrian Ilie, who scored 12 goals in 13 games after joining Valencia for pounds 2.4m in mid-season, but he is poorly supported. Marius Lacatus, Ilie Dumitrescu and Hagi are past their best, while Viorel Moldovan is still to show he was worth the pounds 3.2m Coventry paid for him.

The midfield is solid rather than frightening and the defence over-reliant on Gheorghe Popescu's reading of the game.

However, they are strong on the overlap, have a decent goalkeeper, and will be technically proficient in all areas. They may not be especially hard-working but are adept at making the ball do most of the work.

Ilie, who is clearly not up to date on Hoddle's preferred playing style, added: "I am certain we can impose our game against the English. As always, they will be very physical."

Romania do have a considerable advantage over England in that they have already defeated Colombia and have only the impoverished Tunisians to come. A draw will suit them. England want to win, though in some respects it makes little difference. Assuming Colombia beat Tunisia in Montpellier this evening, and Romania do so in St Denis on Friday, England will still need to take at least a point from Colombia in Lens on Friday regardless of today's result.

This is because should England beat Romania and lose to Colombia, and everybody beats Tunisia, it will come down to goal difference. If that is equal everyone draws lots - in which case we discover whether Glenn Hoddle is, as some of his detractors and supporters claim, a "lucky" manager.

Meanwhile, Hoddle's employers will be keeping in touch with events around the Place du Capitol and the appropriately-named Place St Georges.

After Marseilles, the Football Association is desperate to avoid further hooligan problems and is hoping the combination of tighter licencing laws, a small Romanian support and a less aggressive local youth will reduce the opportunities and desire for a scrap. On and off the pitch, there is much at stake today.

ENGLAND (probable): Seaman; Southgate or Neville, Adams, Campbell; Anderton, Ince, Scholes, Batty, Le Saux; Sheringham, Shearer.

The key confrontations

Alan Shearer v Liviu Ciobotariu

(Newcastle, age 27, caps 41)

(National Bucharest, 27, 5)

THIS SHOULD be no contest. Shearer is one of the best strikers in the World Cup, Ciobotariu is only playing because Daniel Prodan is injured. However, Ciobotariu will be helped by Romania's deep defending, with Gheorghe Popescu, a better defender than Tottenham fans will remember, covering for him. Physically strong - he is two inches taller and half- a-stone heavier than Shearer - Ciobotariu also has good positional sense. Shearer, however, should be quicker in thought and deed. With the refereeing crackdown further tilting the balance towards him, Shearer will be looking for his 15th goal in 18 internationals.

Gareth Southgate v Adrian Ilie

(Aston Villa, 24, 21)

(Valencia, 24, 21)

GLENN HODDLE will need to have his selection spot-on on the right side of defence, as Adrian Ilie is a genuinely dangerous predator. As his goal against Colombia demonstrated, he is quick, nimble and a good finisher. Expensively acquired from Galatasaray by Valencia mid-way through last season "the Cobra" made an instant impact on La Liga. Gareth Southgate has recovered from his ankle injury and should play but, if he is not risked, then Manchester United's Gary Neville, who is more comfortable out wide, is the likely replacement. An alternative is Arsenal's Martin Keown, the best man-marker of the three.

Paul Ince v Gheorghe Hagi

(Liverpool, 30, 40)

(Galatasaray, 33, 112)

TWO CONTRASTING, but influential, players. Hagi, once billed the "Maradona of the Carpathians" is past his best and was a peripheral figure against Colombia. Yet he remains a sublime ball-player and, if motivated by the occasion, could trouble England. Hoddle will certainly remind his team of the dangers involved in conceding free-kicks on the edge of the area. While Hagi spends much of his game at walking pace, Ince is always busy. A more rounded player since his time in Italy, he still relishes a bone-jarring tackle but has better discipline. Makes telling forward runs such as the one which led to Paul Scholes' goal against Tunisia.

Graeme Le Saux V Dan Petrescu

(Chelsea, 29, 26)

(Chelsea, 30, 69)

THE UNWRITTEN rule of this World Cup seems to be that every match must have at least one Chelsea player. This game has two. They are in direct opposition and, Le Saux said last week, they are looking forward to the contest. Both players are regarded as stronger going forward than back though Petrescu, because of his coolness in front of goal, is the better attacker and Le Saux, for his greater courage, the more effective defender. With both players having spiky natures, the meeting could become confrontational rather than friendly if the game proves to be niggly.