Young ones bring hope for future

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The Independent Online
The air around England's thatched French retreat was punctuated with cries of delight yesterday. To the uninitiated it may have seemed they were still celebrating Wednesday night's stunning 2-0 win over Italy in Nantes, but the footballers were enjoying another unexpected English success - their hotel televisions can pick up the BBC's cricket coverage.

When it came to the football the mood was more restrained. While there was a quiet confidence about the England camp, there was also an unmistakable sense that it was no time to be carried away. Contests with France and Brazil beckon.

While it is true that England's progress can only be properly assessed after they have completed their Tournoi de France programme, Wednesday night did suggest a bright future - especially as so many leading players were not involved.

As well as the six changes from the Poland match, it should be remembered there are 14 current internationals back in England who are either injured or recuperating from operations.

"This is the strongest England squad I have been involved in," Stuart Pearce, who won his 76th cap on Wednesday, said. Pearce, 11 years an international, also said that he thought Paul Scholes' full debut was the best he had seen.

Scholes was as unflappable yesterday as he had seemed the previous evening. He had not even phoned his family. "My dad [Stewart] works nights as an engineer," he explained. "I'll ring him when he's had his sleep." Surely, chorused the press, he will have watched it. "No, he's pretty calm like me. He would have heard it on the radio and I expect he'll watch it on tape in the afternoon.''

Scholes' calm did not preclude his admitting he had a rare burst of nerves when Glenn Hoddle told him he was playing. Then it was on with the game. He held onto his shirt afterwards, refusing all Italian efforts to take it off his back as successfully as he had denied them the ball. "I like to keep my shirts," he said. "They're in a bin bag at present but I expect I'll frame the first one eventually.''

David Beckham sat alongside Scholes, for once relegated to second billing. Not that he seemed upset at that - while professing himself able to handle the media interest, he admitted: "I don't like being on the front pages, I'd rather be on the back pages. Some of the things they have said about me are unbelievable, I'm supposed to go to places I've never been near.''

Beckham was as impressive as Scholes on Wednesday, but both were disappointed with their bookings. Scholes' was for an over-zealous tackle. A competitive player with a hard edge, he will have to adjust to the stricter refereeing at international level.

Beckham's problem is his tongue rather than his feet. He admitted that Hoddle had cautioned him on his dissent at half-time. "He said I open my mouth too much. It's nothing to be proud of and I'm making an effort to change. It is something I do in the heat of the moment, I'm not normally aggressive.''

"Young David Beckham needs to understand that when he's been booked he can't stand there arguing," Hoddle said. ''He could have got a second yellow card. At half-time I told him: 'The way you are playing, don't make me have to take you off because in a moment you are going to be sent off.' He learned, which is a good sign.''

The daftest booking was Gascoigne's for a silly tackle in an innocuous area. It spoke heavily of his frustration. While he may delight in the promise of the young players around him, their progress can only hasten his departure and remind him of his unfulfilled potential.

Gascoigne will probably play against France tomorrow, as will Alan Shearer. Ian Wright will be content to step down having cemented his place as understudy, a position he could never have dared hope for a year ago when Robbie Fowler was heir apparent and Wright was an international discard.

One wondered what Fowler, and Steve McManaman, thought of it as they watched during their recuperation from surgery. As patriots they would have enjoyed it, as contenders for an England place they would not. Hoddle may have had them in mind when he added: "I always said this tournament would offer players a chance to stake a claim.''

It was England's fifth successive win, and their fourth away win out of four under Hoddle. In nine games only Marek Citko, of Poland, and Italy's Gianfranco Zola have scored against them.

It is a record which, naturally, breeds confidence, with the latest result particularly valuable in the light of the October World Cup visit to Italy. Hoddle, anxious to maintain the mood of realism, wisely cautioned: "It will be different in Rome, there will be 80,000 screaming Italians for a start.''