World Cup: Rested Shearer is ready to roll

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IT MAY be a few years before he gets his knighthood, judging by Sir Geoff Hurst's wait that is, but Alan Shearer can take a first step when he leads England out for their first match of France 98 against Tunisia in Marseilles tomorrow.

And the England captain is at his fittest and sharpest, according to Glenn Hoddle, as a result of being rested in the recent warm-up games in Morocco. "He was chomping at the bit, but I couldn't afford to have him expose himself to injury. He needed some protection and I wouldn't have been doing my job if I had given in to him," Hoddle said.

"He wants to play every game and is not happy if he isn't, but a good captain can't put himself first. After his lay-off with the broken leg and the ligament injury the last thing I needed was an injury to him.

"Certain players in each camp are absolutely central to their World Cup hopes. If we are going to do well, we have got to hit the back of the net and no-one in our country is better at that than Alan Shearer.

"Shearer is sharp and lean and eager. In fact, this is the sharpest Alan Shearer I have seen, even going back to before the injury. I have seen a response from him and he is looking to improve."

Hoddle believes that Shearer can explode on to the tournament the way he did at Euro 96. "He went into that with a lot of pressure on his shoulders through not scoring before the tournament, but he showed what a great sense of timing he has by being the competition's leading scorer and I think he has it in him to do the same now.

"I hope those supporters who have had a pop at him will be behind him now. I am sure they will be. I sensed they were at the Saudi Arabia game."

Shearer's partner tomorrow is likely still to be Teddy Sheringham, with Michael Owen kept on the bench, but it is believed that Hoddle will spring a surprise by omitting David Beckham from a competitive game for the first time during his two-year management.

It will mean that Darren Anderton takes the right wing-back position, with David Batty partnering Paul Ince in the centre of midfield. The role vacated by Paul Gascoigne is likely to be taken up by Paul Scholes.

Although Tunisia are considered to be the weakest team in Group G, Hoddle is expecting a tough game. "Tunisia will be a difficult side. Look at Morocco. We were crucified for only beating them 1-0 but they played well against Norway and are the barometer."

Sol Campbell, now recovered from the dead leg he picked up against Belgium in Morocco, said there was no concern among the team about their lack of World Cup experience.

"Many of the squad were involved in the European Championships two years ago. We have got experience and youth and are looking to gel and be successful. I think we can do very well. We are here to win."

Beckham's wait, page 26