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England vs Argentina – 1998 World Cup -Match Report

1998 World Cup

Round of 16

England 2 – 2 Argentina (Argentina win 4-3 on penalties)

Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne

Tuesday 30th June 1998

By Alistair Bain (@allybain)

Argentina Route to the Knock Out Rounds

England’s second round opponents Argentina had enjoyed a fairly straight forward progression to the 2nd round, advancing as winners of Group H with a 100% record.

Somewhat fortuitously Argentina would face their toughest opponents in Group H on matchday 3, at a time when both sides had already guaranteed qualification.

Argentina would open their campaign at France 98 with a game against World Cup debutants Japan in Toulouse, and despite the scoreline only being 1-0, after a 28th minute Batistuta strike, Argentina were comfortable victors.

Matchday 2 saw Argentina take on another World Cup debutant, in the form of Jamaica, at the Parc des Princes in Paris.

While Jamaica would put up a willing fight for the opening half, Argentina scoring in 31 minutes through Ortega, the second half saw the damn break and a flood of goals ensued. Ortega would double his goal tally on 55 minutes, but a Gabriel Bastistuta hattrick rounded off proceedings with a 5-0.

Matchday 3 pitched Argentina against Croatia who had gained a lot of traction as team by this point in 1998, after their inaugural International Tournament appearance at Euro 96. Despite having to qualify via the playoffs for France 98 Croatia were a serious outfit and were lead by Davor Suker & Zvonimir Boban, two of the worlds top talents of the time.

With both sides on six points and guaranteed to progress from Group H there was less of an edge to the game, however it would remain a close affair with both sides creating chances. Left back Mauricio Pineda, of Udinese, would score the games only goal on 36 minutes, after making a forward run in behind the Croatia back line, controlling the ball well and applying a quality finish past the Croatian Keeper Ladic.

Matchday Preview

Much of the build up to this match focused on the last time England met Argentina in the World Cup, a game that brought us two moments of infamy from a certain Diego Maradona.

The BBC asked Hoddle about his feelings toward the Argentines, having been an England player in the last meeting in 1986.

“I’ve never used the word ‘revenge’”, Hoddle told the LA Times, “It’s a horrible word and I don’t like it. Redressing the balance is what I’m talking about, turning that result around and getting it out of our systems. That moment has stayed with us for a long time.”

Looking at the line ups each Coach had virtually their strongest squad available to them, so this match promised to be a seriously exciting encounter.

England Starting Line Up

Gary Neville once again retained his place in the starting lineup, with Southgate now back fit and available to play from the bench.

Michael Owen was also included again from the start, hoping to build on what has been a terrific tournament performance thus far. The partnership he is forming with Shearer has also been impressive, working in service of each other and combining well to create multiple chances throughout the games thus far.

Ince & Beckham formed a two man midfield in this match, with Scholes positioned just in front designed to link from deep with the strikers. In reality, once the game got into full flow we’d see Scholes dropping deeper to form a more cohesive line of three when England were defending.

Argentina Starting Line Up

Nestor Sensini had started the tournament as the preferred center back partner of Roberto Ayala, however injury to Sensini in the opening game would curtail his participation throughout the group stage and would stretch further into this match. In his place would come in Nelson Vivas who had traditionally operated as a right back, but would convert to a central position.

Even with Pineda scoring in the final game of Group H from left back, he would be replaced by Jose Chamot of Lazio in the left full back position.

Javier Zanetti at right wing back was in sparkling form at France 98, and was arguably one of the best full backs in the world by this point. His ability to defend well was beautifully complemented by his pace and power going forward. His technical ability to create attacks inside the final third, from wide areas, is a huge asset to this Argentina side.

Arguably Argentina’s strongest asset was their three man midfield, that worked together so well as a trio. Almeyda provided the defensive stability at the base of Argentina’s aggressive forward press, which utilized the midfielders and strikers to pin the opponent quickly to one side of the field.

In Juan Seba Veron Argentina had a wonderful passer from all angles and distances, but his creative spark also allowed him to combine in tight areas to break down deep defenses.

Simeone is someone who offers a combination of both Almeyda and Veron, a wonderfully energetic player that is always looking to make a penetrative run or make a penetrative pass. As the captain of the side he also demonstrates an ability to organize and lead from the front, something that we have now become accustomed to in his coaching career.

In the striking positions Argentina have an embarrassment of riches, possessing three of Seria A’s top strikers of the time, Abel Balbo (Roma), Hernan Crespo (Parma) and Gabriel Batistuta (Fiorentina). Add into that mix Claudio Lopez of Valencia and Marcelo Delgado of Racing, later of Boca Juniors, we see that Argentina Head Coach Daniel Passarella has some serious fire power available to him.

For this one he would again turn to Lopez and Batistuta, a partnership that had started the opening games of the tournament. They are similar to Owen and Shearer in many regards as their individual skill sets, while totally different, work in service of each other.

The fulcrum of this Argentina side would come in the form of Ariel Ortega who would take up the attacking midfielder position. Without any natural width to this Argentina side, Ortega is charged with finding the space that allows him to become Argentina’s spare man in possession, living behind opposition lines of pressure and turning to create attacks in the final third. We will see in the clips that he is given creative license to roam free in search of the ball, but when he picks up possession the magic really starts to happen.

Argentina would be managed by legendary player Daniel Passarella, who after a five-year stint as Head Coach of River Plate would replace Alfio Basile as the national team manager in 1994.

Passarella’s system was in many regards similar to the diamond 442 that Colombia had used in the last match of the group stages. With that said the more dynamic movements from their attackers also gives it a modern day 433 feel, with Ortega dropping deep like a false nine and the wide forwards making diagonal central runs.

Overall this was going to be a tough task for Hoddle and his England side, who had simply not faced a side of Argentina’s quality in the tournament thus far.

First Half Analysis

Argentina Attack Play

Argentina started the game by making lots of penetrative passes into the strikers. It was clear this was in an attempt to assert themselves in possession, but also to put England on the back foot early in the match.

In the fourth minute what appeared to be an innocuous ball forward from Ortega is not dealt with by the England back line, leaving Batistuta to flick on a header to Simeone who had made a run into the box.

Seaman’s attempts to slide in and win the ball are met with the opportunistic Simeone who uses the keepers momentum to ride the challenge and seek a penalty, that is then awarded by Kim Milton Nielsen.

The strike from Batistuta was an impressive one, giving Argentina a very early lead.

Argentina Combination Play

As the half progressed Argentina consistently broke the lines of England’s midfield due to their positional and numerical superiority.

Numerically, the Argentina system creates a 4 vs 3 centrally, testing England’s ability to zonally cover the central areas and pick up the spare man.

Positionally, Argentina’s midfield were disciplined in maintaining good distances between each other, something that a diamond 4 in midfield can actually work to prevent due to overcrowding of players wanting the ball.  

The pattern we saw multiple times from Argentina was a simple up-back and through, something that has now become synonymous in the teams Guardiola and Bielsa manage.

This move is initiated with a simple pass into the striker or an advanced Ortega, the target then laying the ball back, or sideways, into the path of an advancing run, with the receiver then playing a killer through ball to the second striker.

This not only tested England’s central defensive resolve, but also challenged the England midfield in being able to track runners effectively.

Argentina Forward Press

Another area of play that helped Argentina maintain a high level of possession came in the moments after they turned the ball over.  

It was evident from the first whistle that Passarella had set up Argentina to aggressively press the ball, both in each players individual defensive actions and the overall movement of the team.

Pressing in a diamond requires a lot of connectivity between the lines of Argentina’s team. The system favors the vertical axis, such is the amount of players it possesses in the central portion of the field, however it exposes the horizontal spaces if lateral movements are not applied quickly.

To compensate for the lack of width we saw Passarella ask his strikers to quickly lock the ball on one side of the field, which then required the midfielders behind them to move laterally and pick up the opponent’s options around the ball.

In these clips we see how quickly Argentina are in reacting to turn overs in possession. Almost immediately they are trying to prevent an England attack, applying pressure on the ball carrier but allowing him to play a backwards/sidways pass to reset play. This negative ball movement is the trigger for the attacking unit (four central midfielders and two strikers) to aggressively step forward and press the England receiver (typically a center back) and anyone nearby. Quite often this resulted in England turning the ball back over and allowing Argentina to create an attack of their own.

England Defensive Shape

Out of possession Hoddle positioned Owen and Shearer on the same line as Scholes, instructing all three forwards to drop off and not step to the ball. At the back, the wing backs would drop to form a back five and connect with the center backs, with Adams marshalling an aggressive defensive line to keep the spaces between the defense and midfield to a minimum.

England Counter Attacks

With Argentina dominating much of the possession and pressing very aggressively when they turn it over, England had no choice but to stay on the back foot and bide their time in choosing when to attack.

In Paul Scholes and David Beckham England have the creativity and craft to break down an opponent in transition, yet when we add the movement and pace of Owen into the mix quickly Argentina’s aggressive approach appears rather vulnerable.

Both of England’s goals came from terrific counterattack play, each highlighting the threat England carry should they evade Argentina’s initial lines of pressure.

Scholes and Owen would punish Nelson Vivas poor positioning, reading the play incorrectly and giving Owen space to advance forward into during the lead up to Shearer’s penalty. For England’s second goal Campbell would win possession at the top of the box with a terrific tackle, that lead to Beckham and Owen combining to make a mockery of Argentina’s defensive shape. After evading the central midfielder Owen identifies the vacant space to the side of Ayala left vacant by Chamot, who had made an attacking run, so attacks that channel before striking wonderfully into the far corner.

Argentina Set Pieces

With the first half drawing to a close Argentina would be handed a gift at the top of the box on 45 minutes, after a clumsy foul on Lopez by Campbell would hand them a life line.

Argentina would capitalize fully by utilizing a well crafted set piece that left England’s defensive wall in bemusement. Argentina had used a similar set up earlier in the half, which would culminate in a Batistuta strike from distance.

Perhaps this was by design, but on 45 minutes Argentina would lull England into a false sense of security by lining up as if to strike again from the top of the box.

The second kick was markedly different however, with Batistua running over the ball and Veron following in to slip a pass to Javier Zanetti, who had peeled off to the side of the England wall before slamming home an equalizing goal into the roof of the net.

As Kim Milton Neilsen blew for halftime it brought to the first half to an end, a truly remarkable opening half of football that at 2-2 is finely poised to be a classic. Two goals apiece from eight England attacks and nine Argentina attacks seems a very healthy conversion rate for both sides, who will both feel they have a chance of progressing to the quarter finals.  

Second Half Analysis

Both teams re-entered the field for the second half unchanged, however the opening stages of the second half would have a massive effect on the direction this game was about to take.

Beckham Red Card (46 minutes)

Beckham had shown magnificent energy in the first half and, while not quite on the level of his last performance against Colombia, he was progressively growing into the match.

On 46 minutes however we would see a petulant side to Beckham which perhaps illustrated his lack of experience at the top level. After a blatant foul by Simeone, a tackle he would receive a yellow card, Beckham kicks out in full view of the referee. While its by no means a violent attack on Simeone, Beckham found himself being red carded for lashing out, leaving his teammates with a mountain to climb.

England Defensive Shape Change

With England down to ten men Hoddle didn’t turn to his bench immediately, instead altering the team shape with those remaining into a 4-4-1.

England Defensive Fragility

By moving to two lines of four this now presented an already vulnerable central core with simply too much ground to cover. Ince and Anderton simply couldn’t cover all the bases, so by moving away from a three-man midfield they were bypassed regularly.

As England sank deeper to connect the defensive and midfield lines more, also negating the ability to play a ball over the top, this presented Juan Sebastian Veron the time and space to begin picking passes at from deep, thus getting more entry balls into the box.

England In Attack

In attack, any hope England had of progressing the ball gradually through the field was all but gone when they were reduced to ten men.

The frequency of their counterattack play was significantly reduced in the 2nd half, however in Shearer and Owen they still possessed two players who could create something out of nothing. In the clip we see the only real threat from open play in the second half, Owen again showing his qualities when given the space to hurt the opponent.

Second Half Substitutions

Hoddle would make two changes in the second half, bringing on Gareth Southgate for Graeme Le Saux on 71 minutes, and Paul Merson for Paul Scholes on 78. Southgate would move into center back beside Adams, with Campbell moving out to left back, with Merson a direct replacement for Scholes on the left of a midfield four.

Neither substitution made any real sense other than offering a tiring England side more energy in the closing moments of the second half.

Passarella would make the bolder of the changes in the match, removing Lopez and Batistuta on the 68th minute for Crespo and Gallardo. Perhaps he felt the new pairing offered better movement in breaking down England’s low block? Perhaps he was trying to keep them fresh for the next round as he expected them to advance. Personally I didn’t feel either lacked any threat, leading me to surmise that it was just a bizarre decision to take.  

Campbell Disallowed Goal

On 85 minutes Darren Anderton would supply a wicked ball into the box at which point players from both sides attack the ball. Argentina who had been using a zonal system quickly move to pick up Campbell and Shearer who the ball is sailing towards. Campbell has moved from the back post into the center to meet the ball, perhaps moving into Shearer’s natural attacking zone which he has cleared for himself.

What comes next is a crescendo of bodies meeting the ball in the air, with the last touch coming from Sol Campbell as he directs the ball into the back of the net with his forehead. With Campbell and his England teammates wheeling away in celebration referee Neilsen finds there to be a foul on Argentina keeper Carlos Roa, thus cancelling out the goal and allowing Argentina to attack forward unopposed.

Extra Time Analysis

With the game ending 2-2 after ninety minutes, it presented a new challenge for both coaches to potentially adjust their strategy as the sides headed into extra time.

Passarella removed his captain Simeone in favor of Sergio Berti at the start of extra time, perhaps with the threat that he may receive another yellow card and even up the numbers. Berti’s substitution was another like for like change tactically, with him performing a similar role to that of Simeone.  

Hoddle would wait to 97 minutes to introduce David Batty, replacing Darren Anderton, a move that potentially should have taken place as soon as Beckham was sent off on 46 minutes. He instantly added more bite to England’s midfield, winning more tackles and getting England on the front foot more frequently in transition.

Argentina Attack Play

With England now firmly camped in their own half throughout extra time, Argentina grew frustrated at the lack of space available and resorted to shots from distance.

While Argentina certainly had enough quality to trouble Seaman from range, the game would remain locked at 2-2 after the additional thirty minutes and would head to penalties to decide the winner.

Penalty Shootout

With Berti and Shearer converting their opening penalties, England would be handed the advantage as Hernan Crespo’s effort was saved by David Seaman, but they were unable to capitalize upon on it as Ince’s penalty would be saved by Carlos Roa in an almost identical fashion.

Goals from Veron, Merson, Gallardo and Owen would take us to 3-3 headed into the last penalties. Ayala would convert expertly for Argentina, placing all the pressure on David Batty who found himself on the final penalty for England.

As Batty makes contact, we can see that Roa has already decided which way he is diving, which turns out to be the correct decision.

Batty, with his head down looking at the ball throughout the kick, strikes the shot like a pass with the inside of his foot. This naturally takes some of the pace off the strike, compared to a laces drive, therefore it makes it easier for Roa to adjust his hands while diving and reach up to make the save.

There has been arguments over the years as to why Batty was selected to take this penalty, however given the players left on the field and the lack of subs Hoddle had available, its perhaps commendable that he had the confidence to step forward and take one. Its certainly not the best penalty technique we’ll ever see, but its perhaps a touch unfortunate that the miss came as a result of some terrific goal keeping from Carlos Roa.

The Final Word

Given all the possession Argentina had in the game they will be disappointed that their attacking output was only marginally better than their opponent. Finishing with 24 shots to England’s 18, we could extend this further to the amount of high-quality scoring chances, and yet again both sides would run each other close.

Penalty kicks is a tough way to lose any game, especially for an England side who had battled almost 75 minutes with ten men. Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me was the way in which Hoddle failed to tactically solve the problems his team faced in the second half.

Had Hoddle replaced Anderton with Batty after the red card, and altered the shape to a 4-3-2, it may have allowed his side to achieve what they set out to do but in a slightly more effective fashion.

Defensively they now could push play into wide areas, and importantly negating central penetrative passes away from Ortega, and offensively still had Owen positioned on the high line to attack through balls in transition.

Personally I think Hoddle got his strategy wrong after the Beckham red card, the shape was far too submissive and allowed Argentina to attack spaces that England were too vulnerable in.

The Southgate substitution for Le Saux made sense, as he wanted a back line that were all able to defend cross balls, but to replace Scholes with Merson was a real head scratcher. Especially given McManaman was available to play off the left and carried a threat in transition.

One thing we cannot question is how hard his side fought for him to see out the game and take the match to penalty kicks. Despite all the subsequent comments I’ve read about Hoddle’s relationship with his players, there was something very evident about their reaction to Beckham’s red card that showed a strength in unity that Hoddle had engendered.

In contrast you could see the confidence drain out of Argentina who, in spite of all their advantages, simply couldn’t find an answer during the 120 minutes.

Let’s leave the conclusion to this match to the BBC website, who would write:

The conclusion many in England will draw is a familar one.

As has often been the case in recent years, a proud England team took part in the most dramatic match of the tournament, and narrowly lost to leave everyone asking: “What if?”

And of course yet again, what if England’s penalty takers were as accurate as their opponents?

This time it will be Ince and Batty who must come to terms with something Gareth Southgate, Chris Waddle and Stuart Pearce all learned to live with.

But each one of the players will no doubt return home with a feeling of great disappointment that they so narrowly missed out.

Thank you to everyone who has been following this series, we look forward to continue providing you with quality Retro Football Analysis in the future.

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England vs Colombia – 1998 World Cup -Match Report

1998 World Cup

Group G – Match Round 3

England 2 – 0 Colombia

Stade Felix-Bollaert, Lens

Friday 26th June 1998

By Alistair Bain (@allybain)

Group G Update

Prior to England’s matchday 2 encounter with Romania in Toulouse, Colombia would take on Tunisia at the Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier in front of 30,000 spectators.

This stadium would hold particular significance for Colombia captain Carlos Valderrama, who was once a Montpellier player between 1988 and 1991. He was no doubt hoping a return to southern France would give he & his Colombia side some added support from the locals.

With both sides requiring a win after suffering opening day defeats, this match was played in a very aggressive manner and saw multiple attacks from both sides throughout the ninety minutes.

With 82 minutes on the clock a moment of magic from the Colombia skipper Valderrama would see him slip through a cutting pass to second half substitute Leider Preciado, whose first touch saw him evade the Tunisian defender and apply a left footed finish which nestled in the bottom corner. This solitary goal would get Colombia the three points they desired, and would leave it all to play for in their final match with England.

Match Highlights can be found here:

Here is how Group G stood after Matchday 2.

Matchday Preview

The BBC would report on Thursday June 25th 1998 that, “Only key defender Gareth Southgate is ruled out of the starting 11 after he failed to recover in time from an ankle injury. But England’s inspirational midfielder, Paul Ince, could still make the first 11 despite limping off the pitch at the Stade Municpale in Toulouse on Monday. Paul Scholes and Sol Campbell are also recovering from a sore back and hamstring injuries respectively.

Hoddle would comment on the fitness of the squad with, “We hope that the injuries to Scholes and Campbell will have settled down by tomorrow but the game has come too soon for Gareth Southgate although he is improving.”

Speculation over the inclusion of Michael Owen featured heavily in the build up to this game, with the BBC website stating, “it appears increasingly certain that Hoddle will give Liverpool’s 18-year-old striking prodigy Michael Owen his first full start.”

Owen, who scored and then hit the post in just 13 minutes against Romania, is expected to replace Teddy Sheringham whose performance during England’s defeat on Monday was widely criticized.

Hoddle has hinted all week that Owen would be picked and said on Thursday: “Starting Michael on Friday is an option which I always thought might arrive for the third game because Colombia’s shape is different to the other two sides we have played. He has got the pace which is the attribute that frightens defenders more than anything.”

The mind games from Colombian veteran Valderrama were also on show in the run up to the match, with him stating, “The English can kick and rush but they cannot cope with balls being passed along the ground. They just panic because it’s an alien concept to them. The Romanians embarrassed them on Monday spending five minutes passing the ball to feet and the English players were made to look rather foolish.”

Big words indeed from the Colombian captain, no doubt adding some extra impetus to an England side who already have a point to prove after their last outing.

England Starting Line Up

With Southgate unable to return Hoddle would field an unchanged back three, although we’ll see they operate in a slightly different way in this particular game.

Beckham would be given his first start of the competition, which was naturally vindicated giving his strong second half performance against Romania. We’ll see the strength of relationship he has with Neville, and laterally Anderton, in this match with numerous right wing rotations throughout the game.

Scholes would start slightly deeper in this game, joining Beckham in a two man central pairing that has Ince positioned behind them in a holding role. He would continue to attack in high positions, working to get forward and connect with Shearer and Owen when available to do so.

Ince’s late fitness test perhaps illustrates Hoddle’s belief that he offers a touch more versatility than David Batty, who can probably find himself unlucky not to be selected after two stellar performances.

Owen would get the nod to partner Shearer up front which given the strategy in this match would prove to be a good decision. There’s no doubt Sheringham remains a quality operator, but his display against Romania would be hard to build a defense around keeping him in the starting eleven.

Colombia Starting Line Up

Colombia Head Coach Hernan Dario Gomez would make two changes to the starting line that had previously faced Tunisia. Moreno came in to replace Jose Santa at left back, and Leider Preciado, the scorer of the winning goal against Tunisia, came in to replace Adolfo Valencia up front.  

They remain without talisman striker Faustino Asprilla, who English fans will know well from his time at Newcastle, who picked up an injury in the opening match with Romania.

On the bench they have Hamilton Ricard who had recently moved to Middlesbrough as they pushed for promotion back to the Premier League.

Colombia’s key figures were the midfield pairing of Captain Carlos Valderrama & Freddy Rincon. Valderrama’s reputation as a top player had been established almost a decade earlier at Italia 90, but even at 36 it was evident from the opening two games he was still able to compete at this level. Rincon also featured in the famous Colombia side of Italia 90, and had just finished a two season stint with Real Madrid before heading back to South America to team up with future Brazil manager Vanderlei Luxemburgo at Corinthians.

Head Coach Gomez set up his Colombia side in a narrow 4-4-2, that in modern terms would probably be classified as a diamond 442 system. Without any traditional wingers in the side, or genuine width from the midfield, it required the four central midfielders and two strikers to be constantly rotating and moving to the find gaps between England’s 352 structure. The central six are flanked by movements from the full backs to offer support in wide areas, yet the timing of those runs can leave the side exposed when the ball turns over. Even to this day the system requires a high level of technical ability to not only break down the opponent but to also prevent them from immediately counter attacking the spaces behind advanced full backs.

Lets see how the contrasting systems of play interacted.

First Half Analysis

Colombia Build Up Play

To help us understand what England would have scouted from Colombia’s game with Tunisia, lets take a look at some highlights. We can see that Colombia like to play penetrative passes into the final third, feeding entry balls into their strikers who are on the half turn with the intent of quickly facing the goal to get shots off. In both instances the opportunity arrived when the opposition midfield were drawn toward the ball and unable to screen the back line, thus leaving their center backs in an individual battle with the Colombia strikers.

With England lining up with three center backs this will now place more emphasis on each of them being able to intercept passes, but also use the extra man to good effect to cover the player who presses the ball.

It will also require England’s holding midfielder (in this case Ince) to remain disciplined in his positioning and prevent any penetrative passes from splitting the defensive shape.

Build Up Play Philosophy

During the first half we can see from the clips that the Colombian midfield and attack use lots of movement to initiate build up patterns. A common trend saw Valderrama dropping deep and Rincon working between the lines. Similarly de Avila would drop down into midfield, allowing a midfielder to go high and stretch the game in his place. With Valderrama flanked by Lozano and Serna centrally, we see them all play quick short passes to draw pressure and expose the space behind any England midfielder who jumps forward to press. In the clips we see Rincon working to stand behind a pressing player (pictured below).

This offers the ball passer/carrier an easy pass to evade pressure and break England’s lines, thus utilizing the extra man Colombia have in midfield.

While this methodical build up allowed Colombia to slowly progress the ball up the field, it also allowed England to simply drop back into a 532 defensive shape and mark zonally to ensure no penetrative passes got in behind the back line.

Colombia became more aware of the need to be more aggressive in possession, so in some of the clips earlier we see Rincon and Valderrama play a little less safe and attempt more creative passes. In addition to this we also caught a few glimpses of what Colombia have in store in transition.

Colombia Counter Attack Play

In attack Colombia has players who can carry the ball effectively, Rincon being a good example, but also players with the athleticism to hurt opponents when space is available in the final third. Add both of these together and it should make for a potent attack, however Colombia couldn’t convert beyond a good attempt.

England Defensively

Defending Aerial Duels

The criticism England’s back line received in the wake of the Romania performance will have no doubt spurred them on to raise their level in this match. It was evident that there was a heightened performance brewing in the early moments, just by the way Neville, Adams and Campbell attacked the ball in the air.

Stepping Forward to Defend

Similarly with Colombia’s movement to drop off the high line we didn’t see Neville and Campbell simply pass the man on to a midfielder, they were extremely aggressive in stepping into midfield and negating any ability for Colombia to create a spare/free player.

England Counter Attack Play

With Colombia dictating a lot of possession in the opening half but not offering much in the way of clear-cut chances, it gave England the opportunity to build on their solid defensive performance by threatening via counter attacks.

In England’s last match with Romania we saw Scholes as utilized as the focal point when counter attacking, feeding him the ball to carry centrally and in turn find Sheringham and Shearer in shooting positions.

With Scholes starting deeper in the defensive organization Hoddle would turn to Michael Owen to be the new target as and when the ball turns over. His electric pace and ability to stay on the shoulder of the last defender proved to be a real asset in the opening half, with him pulling wide into the channel vacated by an advancing Colombian full back. On 19 minutes Neville played a simple ball in behind Colombia’s left back Moreno for Owen to latch onto and cross into the box. This attack would prove pivotal, as after a headed clearance from the cross Darren Anderton struck the ball ever so sweetly and it sailed into the top corner giving England a 1-0 lead.

England Build Up Play

England Right Wing Rotations

In contrast to the previous two games where England had enjoyed a lot of the ball and used a sophisticated build up via pattern play, in this match they had to be more creative in the moments they had the ball.

With Colombia defending the central areas of the field in their narrow 442 shape, this provided England with the opportunity to overload wide areas and get quality deliveries into the box with little pressure on the ball.

On England’s right hand side they had Darren Anderton at right wing back, Gary Neville at right center back and David Beckham at right center midfield, all three of whom are equipped with the ability to deliver a ball into the box with conviction.

In the clips we see Beckham pulling into wide areas to whip balls into the box and we also see Neville making overlapping runs around Anderton, from center back, that we saw so frequently against Romania.

Once the balls were delivered into the box Shearer and Owen were positioned to attack the spaces near the posts, with Scholes attacking from deep to cover the penalty spot zone. This made for some particularly good chances in the first half for England and as the half progressed, we saw fewer and fewer moves forward from Colombia’s full backs in an effort to cover the defensive spaces England were attacking so freely.

England Momentum

David Beckham picked up in this game exactly where he left off in Toulouse, showing a level of performance that was worthy of man of the match potential even in the opening stages. His ability to switch play, hit pinpoint crosses and offer energy defensively were exemplary in this game, and on 29 minutes he would remind the world what his gift from the football gods would be.

A stunning free kick from almost 30 yards out sailed over the Colombia defensive wall and flew past keeper Mondragon. The goal certainly settled any apprehension that may have been felt in the England camp, providing Hoddle with the platform upon which to build or to use as a stopping point in protecting their 2-0 lead.

Second Half Analysis

As the teams re-entered the field for the second half England would remain unchanged, where as Coach Diaz made a triple substitution for Colombia. In would come three attackers, Adolfo Valencia, Victor Aristizabal and Hamilton Ricard, to replace central midfielder Serna and strike duo de Avila and Preciado.

Colombia Build Up Shape

In the closing stages of the first half we saw Hoddle adjust England’s defensive shape, with Scholes moving to connect with Shearer and Owen, who dropped the forward press deeper, and Beckham and Ince working to connect with the wing back on the ball side (in this case Le Saux) to prevent Colombia’s diamond midfield from finding space between the lines. In essence England wanted to compact centrally to force play wide.

Building Out of The Box

With the introduction of attacking midfielder Aristizabal to accompany Valderrama, Colombia coach Gomez now positioned his midfield in the shape of a box. By moving away from a diamond they were able to find new ways to play in behind England’s zonal defensive shape. With Aristizabal and Valderrama now stood in advanced positions, it offered Rincon and Lozano diagonal passing angles which hadn’t been available previously.

Striker Profile

In addition to the change in midfield shape Colombia now also altered the profile of their lead striker. In Hamilton Ricard Colombia now had a striker with genuine pace in behind, but also someone who had the ability to fashion chances with his back to goal.

With two attacking midfielders directly underneath the two forwards it also offered better angles to run the shoulders of England’s defenders and, at times, negate England’s ability to use a spare man at the back.

England’s Answer Tactically

You can hear in the game tape Hoddle calling onto the players, “Show him wide”, whenever an England player engages with a Colombia midfielder. Given the amount of central options Colombia had this was sage advice, however as the second half wore on it felt as if Colombia were doing England’s defending for them.

We see that Hoddle reacts to the box midfield by flattening out his central three midfielders (Scholes, Ince and Beckham) and he has them drop back to screen the back five and basically kill any space between the lines. Shearer and Owen position themselves wider to defend the inside spaces, thus preventing Lozano or Rincon to drop and pick up easy possession from the center backs.

Hoddle would bring on McManaman for Scholes to offer a different option in transition, and perhaps combine better with Le Saux on the left wing.

Rob Lee would take the place of Anderton at right wing back, primarily to see the game out and offer defensive protection in front of Neville.

David Batty would also make an appearance on 83 minutes to replace Paul Ince, who really hadn’t shown any signs of being hampered by injury at all during the match.

While England were very professional in this match it depends where your allegiances lie to fully evaluate this second half performance. Yes, the connectivity between England’s back line and midfield was excellent. Yes, individually there are plenty of instances where England defenders and midfielders intercept the ball to create a counterattack, but the amount of turn overs Colombia created through over dribbling and simply giving England the ball was eye watering.

At no point do Colombia try and stretch the field or offer any advanced width by say changing to 4-3-3. The system played right into England’s hands, who still had to do their job, but it gave England the opportunity to generate attacks from deep through counter attacks and what better asset to have than a striker with blistering pace.

Michael Owen Effect

One player who offered the biggest threat in transition was Michael Owen, who’s pace and movement was a threat Colombia simply couldnt handle by the end.

For all Owen’s quality attack play he will be disappointed not to have finished on 81 minutes, however its clear that he’s a capable striker at this level despite him only being 18 and having minimal international minutes.

Individual Analysis

Sol Campbell

Another magnificent performance from Campbell as best illustrated in the defensive clips above. He dominated almost every opponent he encountered in this match, and will be required to put in more big performances should England look to advance further in the tournament.

Alan Shearer

Despite Owen getting the plaudits in this match Shearer is still very much England’s leading striker. His all round game is exactly whats required of a functional side like England, ranging from attacking direct balls, to playing with his back to goal in ground link up, to being there in the box and applying finisheds when it matters.

Carlos Valderrama

It was a pleasure watching 90 minutes of Valderrama, even though it was fairly evident his best years were behind him. At 36 this would be his last game for Colombia, however he would continue to the ripe old age of 41 in Major League Soccer in the USA, finally calling it a day after a season with the Colorado Rapids.

Freddy Rincon

This was a player I had no memory of watching live at the time, however it’s a name that always resonates as a legend of Colombian football. My only real connection is that I would always make a point of signing him on Championship Manager 97/98! His quality in carrying the ball, taking a pass from all angles and playing penetrative passes were evident from the first whistle, and even aged 31 he was arguably one of the best attackers on the field.

The Final Word

In truth this match carried more pressure due to what was at stake rather than any genuine threat to England being defeated. While Colombia had some quality their rearguard was never a match for a team the level of England.

Hoddle will feel vindicated that the changes he’s made to the side have over the course of the three group stage games have worked out. Beckham’s inclusion gives his side more balance, Owen certainly gives them more of a threat in the final third. Additionally Neville hasn’t looked out of place at all in the back three, and if anything offers more attacking threat than Southgate could do.

The biggest difference in this particular match has to be England cutting out the defensive errors we saw against Romania. All three center backs looked assured, as did those in front of them, which proves the quality is there to compete at this level it just has to be backed up by belief.

The BBC website would write:

David Beckham finally stamped his presence on France 98 with a spectacular goal in the 2-0 win over Colombia – then declared: “I’ve never played better.”

The 23-year-old Manchester United midfielder had been devastated to be left on the bench for England’s first two France 98 games, with Glenn Hoddle saying he was not focused. But Beckham took his chance in style against Colombia in Lens, scoring his first goal in 18 internationals with a blistering free-kick as England eased towards a place in the last 16.

Summing up the victory that secured second place in Group D, Hoddle added: “If we’d taken half of our chances we would have won by four or five. It was a conclusive and controlled performance, perhaps the best under me. Everybody was worth eight out of 10. When you do that you normally win.”

You can read the original 1998 BBC match report from the BBC website archives by CLICKING HERE

Elsewhere In Group G

Romania would take on Tunisia in the other final game of Group G, a game that would take place in front of 77,000 people at the Stade de France. The attendance wasn’t the only surprise factor of this match, as Romania’s players would emerge from the tunnel each sporting bleach blonde hair.

With Tunisia out of the competition it allowed them to play with a freedom, that would pay off after only 12 minutes with Souayah slotting home a penalty to go 1-0 up.

With England’s scoreline bettering that of Romania at half time, the standings would have England finishing top of Group G and Romania second. This would have serious implications as to the round of 16, with Argentina lying in wait for the side who finished second at the end of 90 minutes.

Final placements were all in Romania’s hands, and after a fairly shambolic performance in Paris it looked like ending in defeat. Fortunately for the Romanian’s Viorel Moldovan would come on to find an equalizing goal that would see them finish the Group stages with 7 points and top of the standings.

Final placements look like this:

For England they now progress onto the round of 16 with a match against Argentina, taking place on Tuesday 30th June 1998 at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne.

Join us next time as we analyze one of the most iconic matches of the 90s.

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England vs Romania – 1998 World Cup -Match Report

1998 World Cup

Group G – Match Round 2

England 1 – 2 Colombia

Stade Municipale, Toulouse

Monday 22nd June 1998

By Alistair Bain (@allybain)

Group G Update

Following England’s victory over Tunisia on matchday one, fellow Group G opponents Romania and Colombia would meet at the Stade de Gerland in Lyon.

These sides last met at the World Cup in USA in 1994, at which time the Romanian’s would win 3-1 with goals from Hagi & West Ham United legend Florin Raducioiu.

On this occasion Colombia would still find a place for Asprilla, Rincon and Valderrama, all of whom had played an integral part of the Colombian side for the past 10 years, however as continuity goes Romanian’s golden generation were still in full flow fielding no fewer than five starters from 4 years earlier.

On the stroke of half time Romania would turn to a striker making his world cup debut for his country, Galatasary hit man Adrian Ilie, whose deft chip over Mondragon would give his side the lead in first half stoppage time. Cautious possession and a lack of penetration from Colombia would see the match finish 1-0 to Romania, and would set up their clash with England nicely on matchday two in Toulouse.

Here is how the group stood after the opening round of fixtures.

Matchday Preview

As the 22nd of June 1998 arrived, Glenn Hoddle was forced into a selection change with Gareth Southgate picking up an injury and would in turn be replaced by Manchester United’s Gary Neville. The BBC website would write:

The Aston Villa defender completed a full training session on Sunday but failed to convince England’s management of his ability to last 90 minutes.

He sprained his right ankle on Tuesday while working out with the squad following last Monday’s 2-0 win over Tunisia in the opening game.

Darren Anderton keeps his place in preference to David Beckham, and the rest of the team is unchanged from the one which beat Tunisia.

Adams found the hard pitch against Tunisia in Marseille physically taxing and there is a worry that he might not last the entire game.

‘High technique’

Hoddle, who on Saturday watched Croatia beat Japan in Nantes, said the game against Romania is the toughest in the group.

Romania are a team of high technique, he said. The coach pinpointed midfielder Gheorghe Hagi and Chelsea’s Dan Petrescu for special attention.

Hoddle added: “They are the seeded team and we will have to play as well or better than we did against Tunisia. “Every time we have played them in the last 10 to 15 years it has been a draw and we want to win this time.”

England Starting Line Up

Positionally the only major change from the Tunisia match would be Scholes taking up a more advanced central role. This gave Sheringham and Shearer someone who could attack the box should they peel wide like we saw in the previous match, but during the match we also saw Scholes was man marked by Romania’s Galca so would often rotate with Sheringham in an attempt to break free and to penetrate the space in behind Romania’s back line.

In possession Batty and Ince worked as a double pivot in front of the defensive line, providing angles to build the ball forward but also to stretch Romania through switches of play. This positioning was also to protect the spaces vacated by the aggressive forward runs of Neville and Campbell, something we will illustrate later in the article.

Romania Starting Line Up

Romania Coach Anghel Iordanescu would name an unchanged starting eleven from that of their opening match with Colombia.

In general terms this is a very fluid 3-5-2 system with lots of rotations and intricate build up play. Typically, their preference was to move the ball through the central channels to create shooting opportunities at the top of the box, however the strikers would also pull wide on the ball side to offer width and to attack via a dribble diagonally.

Romania are captained by the legendary figure of Gheorghe Hagi, who at 33 has 111 caps to his name and is still playing an integral role for 97/98 Turkish champions Galatasary. To say Hagi has a free role would be an understatement, freedom of the field would likely be a more apt description such was the fluidity of his movement. Despite his senior years (33 in 1998 almost certainly meant a player was well into the twilight of his career) Hagi would have been considered as a major threat in this game, both from open play and set pieces, given the devilish technique possessed in his left foot.

At the back Romania are anchored by Gheorghe Popescu, who was also starring with Turkish champions Galatasary, but would have been well known to English football fans having spent the 94/95 season with Ossie Ardiles at Tottenham Hotspur. His role was that of a traditional Libero, often found in German teams of the 80s and 90s, starting as a sweeper in the central areas of a back three but often moving into midfield. His ability to pass and carry the ball from the back was a real asset to the team, helping orchestrate attacks as well as breaking up play to begin counter attacks.

Other team members include Dan Petrescu who was a very solid right fullback who had spent four seasons in England with Sheffield Wednesday and laterally Chelsea. Striker Viorel Moldovan had just finished a noticeably short stint in English football during the 97/98 season with Coventry, making 10 appearances before moving to Turkish football to sign for Fenerbahce.

First Half Analysis

Build Up Play

Romania’s defensive shape saw them sink into a medium block with two strikers primed to press forward with Hagi just underneath, leaving their remaining seven players to hold as a unit in a 3-4 formation. With the spaces available on the flanks Hoddle gave more license to Campbell and Neville to spread wide like full backs and advance forward to combine with Anderton and Le Saux. On the left side we saw relentless dribbles out the back from Sol Campbell, combining his athleticism with Le Saux’s pace gave Romania a constant headache on that side. On the right Neville was more direct with his passes, using Shearer as the point of attack before advancing forward, but Neville would also work well with Anderton to double up on Munteanu.

We also saw more aggressive actions from England’s wing backs in possession in the first half. Both Le Saux and Anderton attacked their opponent like a traditional winger would, all in search of reaching the byline and whipping in a cross for England’s attacking trio of Shearer, Sheringham and Scholes.

It was clear that Romania Coach Iordanescu had utilized a similar strategy found in the Tunisia match, which was to attack England’s right side. Romania would also attempt to draw Anderton out with dribbles from Munteanu, thus isolating Neville 1v1 against Adrian Ilie who would pull wide into the channels to create attacks into the box. Romania looked measured in possession and with Hagi floating between the lines it forced England to defend more as a unit by lifting their back line to condense the spaces.  

It was apparent that there was an edge to the atmosphere of this match which, not too dissimilar to that we saw against Tunisia, that caused England’s players to react uncharacteristically. There were a number of glaring errors in possession in the first half, which no doubt gave the Romanian’s confidence that they could later capitalize upon a mistake.

Counter Attack Play

With England sinking back into a defensive shape of 5 in defense and a central cluster of 3 midfielders closing down centrally, should the ball turn over in their favor it was evident that Scholes was to be the transition point they looked for. The problems England ran into because of this were three-fold:

Firstly if Scholes found himself too deep England lacked the creative quality to beat Romania’s quick reactive press, which saw Galca step onto Scholes immediately, thus leaving Ince and Batty to combine their way out of trouble.

Secondly, when Scholes did manage to pick up the ball and carry possession into space Romania could afford to have a center back step into midfield and apply pressure, with their wing backs dropping back into the defensive line providing sufficient coverage.

Thirdly, when Scholes was able to break pressure and combine with Shearer and Sheringham there was a distinct lack of quality in the final third. In the clip below we see Shearer pulling wide, with Sheringham and Scholes 2v2 in the box, yet the chance would fizzle out as the cross missed the central zone entirely.

In looking at Romania’s opening match against Colombia it would have been clear to Hoddle and his staff that for all Romania’s technique in buildup they truly excelled when given the opportunity to counter attack. Across the field they press the ball very well, not only in defending to prevent the opponents attacks but also timing their defensive actions such that it allows them to intercept possession and create an attack of their own.

In this match Romania defended very well in the opening 45 minutes with Galca showing himself to be a terrific holding midfielder, quickly dispossessing his opponent and finding Gabby Popescu and Hagi in good areas to create. In Ilie and Moldovan they have two strikers able to find spaces that stretched England’s back three, and in the clips we see that Ilie almost opened the scoring with a deft chip over Seaman.

First Half Incident

This very strong challenge on Paul Ince by Gheorghe Hagi in the early moments of the match would continue to cause the Inter Milan midfielder discomfort throughout the opening half. On 32 minutes it was decided that Ince had to be replaced, with Hoddle opting for David Beckham who was to make his debut at a major tournament with England.

It was immediately apparent that Beckham was playing with a point to prove, especially as he would have entered the competition viewing himself as a starting player. All the discussions about being “dropped” were now over, it was up to him to show what he could do on the world stage.

Second Half Analysis

As the teams re-entered the field for the second half neither coach had made any substitutions, however it was to be the events of the opening minute of the half that shaped the remainder of the game.

A defensive mistake from England at a throw in would gift Romania the lead, with Viorel Moldovan capitalizing on a momentary lapse in concentration from Adams and crashing the ball into the bottom corner. While there were no immediate changes in personnel, we did see a far more aggressive England attack during their build up play.

Build Up

In Beckham England now had someone who could quickly switch the point of attack with pinpoint accuracy, so should their advances down one wing not work out he would position himself at the base of the midfield providing a natural switch point to aggressively attack the opposite side.

Further to this we now saw England’s wing backs inverting centrally like inside forwards. This not only allowed Shearer and Sheringham to spend more time in the box, thus occupying all three Romania defenders, their positioning maintained that Neville and Campbell had a point of attack to combine with as they advanced forward like traditional attacking full backs.

Counter Attack Play

With England advancing forward in search of a goal this gave Romania the perfect opportunity to attack the spaces vacated in England’s midfield should the ball turnover. The pace of Moldovan and Ilie were a constant threat throughout the half, but even in his advancing years Hagi could still cover ground when required.

As the second half wore on England sought to increase the speed of their attack play in search of a goal. The inclusion of Beckham not only gave England a quality passer in build up, but in moments of transition he also had the creativity and quality to thread the perfect through ball or make a pin point cross that could consistently hurt the opponent.

Add to this the 72nd minute substitute of Michael Owen, coming on to replace Teddy Sheringham, and now England have genuine pace to threaten Romania in behind, but also a lethal finisher should he find an opportunity inside the box.

Poor Defending

Unfortunately for England a stellar second half attacking performance was bookended by two defensive moments to forget.

We can see that during the first goal a simple attack from a throw in eluded three England defenders, all three of whom were regarded as some of the best players in the Premier League at the time (Le Saux, Campbell and Adams), which illustrates a lack of concentration at a critical time. Tony Adams body position was especially startling, given his experience you’d be surprised to see him facing his own goal and being caught off balance at such an important moment.

With Romania’s winning goal England’s entire defensive structure would conspire to implode upon itself. The play begins with a lack of pressure on the ball, which allows Munteanu to loft a ball forward behind the England back line. Adams gets drawn to the checking movement of Moldovan as he steps toward Munteanu, leaving a large space centrally that Neville and Campbell don’t drop to compact as they presumably weren’t expecting Adams to step forward. Amazingly the central run comes from Romania right back Dan Petrescu who finds himself in an attacking midfield position, and stranger still his run is tracked by Chelsea teammate Graeme Le Saux who despite getting back is caught wrong side and turns his back on contact, allowing Petrescu to strike past Seaman to seal the Romanian victory.

While these England players certainly have the defensive acumen and ability to make a back 3 system work, I am left questioning weather the familiarity of playing either within, or in front of, a 4 man defensive system for their clubs is causing these errors in judgement. Neville was the only defensive change, which doesn’t cause any a drop in quality in my opinion, so it’s the collective mindset that would be in question for me.

While Tunisia didn’t have the quality to punish nominal errors Romania certainly did today, so it will be something that Hoddle must correct should they wish to advance into the latter stages of the tournament.

Individual Analysis

Gheorge Hagi

I was quite disappointed with Hagi’s performance in this game truth be told. Sure there were moments of magic, but the erratic shooting from distance became old very quickly. I pulled his shot map from the analysis we did during his three games at Euro 96 and while the locations were similar his output was far better two years previous.

Amazingly he’d go on to have three more seasons at Galatasary after this World Cup, and would again captain Romania at Euro 2000 in Belgium and Holland, with his playing career coming to a close at the end of the 00/01 season when he would take over as national team manager.  

David Beckham

We covered Beckham quite a bit in the second half clips, but it bears repeating how much he impacted the England second half performance. For someone who had operated almost exclusively as a right winger in a 442 for Manchester United, to come into central midfield and boss the game the way he did was remarkable to see all these years later.

Michael Owen

Owen once again gave a very good account of himself in general play after his 72nd minute substitution. What naturally will stand out from this game was his equalizing goal, which was the perfect illustration of Owen’s natural inclination to find space inside the box to score. He was desperately unlucky in stoppage time not to win the game, however his strike from distance would agonizingly brush the left post of Stelea’s goal frame. Surely Owen has done enough to claim a starting place after this performance, probably aided and abetted by Sheringham having a relatively quiet match.

The Final Word

There’s no doubt this match will have caused unrest among the England fan base, a support who would expect their team to compete in every match, yet it was the manner of the defeat that will resonate so deeply.

On the BBC website Hoddle angrily attributed both Romanian goals to “schoolboy defending”. He’d go on to say, “We’ve really given two sloppy goals away when I felt Romania didn’t really create an out-and-out chance”.

“I felt we might be the team to go on and punish them, but we have given two terrible goals away, defensively dreadful. If you defense like that, then at this level, you’re going to be punished.”

While England did create more chances than Romania in the match, there was a lurking threat to everything Romania did in the final third that was simply not matched by England. You add to this a defensive frailty that England showed and very quickly you have a recipe for exiting a tournament early. Its obvious that England have to improve defensively, but at what cost in attack?

England’s build up play was given a significant uplift in this match with Campbell and Neville advancing forward with regularity, but the security Ince and Batty provided was no longer available after 32 minutes. Beckham’s inclusion saw an immediate upswing in attacking prowess, but it did leave Batty exposed at times which further extends the debate as to what England’s strongest midfield actually looks like.

Should you be of the inclination to suggest fielding England’s most “in form” eleven is the way to go, then it would be considered negligent of Hoddle not to see both Beckham and Owen as starters in the, now must win, match against Colombia on the 26th June in Lens.

As a manager who appears unable to move away from his preferred 3-5-2 system, the question will always therefore revolve around which personnel offer the best balance in which to overcome its opponent. Against Colombia England will enter as favorites, therefore it may force Hoddle’s hand to select an eleven that simply out-guns its opponents at the expense of remaining defensively solid.

Join us on the 26th of June to find out!

You can read the original 1998 BBC match report from the BBC website archives by CLICKING HERE

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England vs Tunisia – 1998 World Cup – Match Report

1998 World Cup

Group G – Match Round 1

England 2 – 0 Tunisia

Stade Vélodrome, Marseille

Monday 15th June 1998

By Alistair Bain (@allybain)

Team Line Ups

England Starting Line Up

Based on Hoddle’s qualification campaign, the way he wanted to set the team up and the form of the players, this is arguably England’s strongest 11 with one glaring omission. The only major question related to the exclusion of David Beckham, who by this stage was a regular for club and country, so it left fans and pundits questioning the decision. We’ve since found out that Hoddle cited a “Lack of focus” from Beckham, which was a feeling Hoddle had picked up from Beckham’s very public relationship with Spice Girls singer Victoria Adams. In his place was Darren Anderton whose last England performance, the summer friendlies in May 98 notwithstanding, came back in Euro 96 under Terry Venables.

Tunisia Starting Line Up

Tunisia were entering only their 2nd ever World Cup, the last time coming back in 1978. In January of 1998 Tunisia would advance as group winners from their section at the African Nations Cup, however would exit at the next stage after a loss on penalties to Burkino Faso. This was an experienced squad at international level however, with almost two thirds of the squad recording over 30 caps. The star of this team was striker Adel Sellimi who helped fire Nantes to a 3rd place finish in Ligue 1. This team also features a 21 year old Hatem Trabelsi who would later move to Ajax & Manchester City.

First Half Analysis

Build Up Play

England would look to spread their back three the width of the 18 yard box, allowing Campbell, Adams and Southgate the ability to pass into midfield but also carry the ball forward should their be space to do so. Anderton and Le Saux, England’s wingbacks, were positioned in line with the central midfielders and stretched the width of the field by standing on the touch lines. In theory this opens up the central channels of Batty, Scholes and Ince to get on the all and initiate build up patterns. When England were at their best, they broke Tunisia’s forward press with quick forward passes from the center backs to either Batty or Ince in behind the first line of pressure, allowing them to turn and advance the ball into the strikers or Scholes. Where England struggled during build up is when Scholes, Sheringham or Shearer would drop too deep, thus receiving the ball in front of a Tunisia side dropping back to collect their 5-3-2 defensive shape and only leaving wide or backwards passes as the options to keep the ball.

While on the surface Tunisia’s shape matched that of England, the North African’s would line up with a sweeper at the back (Badra) and the remaining 8 outfield players setting up in a linear 4-3-2 in front of him. From a strategy perspective they must have scouted a weakness on England’s right side, as there was significant traffic on that side throughout the first half. Tunisia’s midfield had a level of technical ability that allowed them to use intricate combinations, pulling England players out of position to create free runs from Clayton (LWB) or Chihi (LCM) both of whom made attacking movements behind Anderton on their left flank. Adel Sellimi was positioned as a striker but would also move off the high line to give Tunisia a further option in buildup.

Where England struggled to cope with Tunisia’s attack play lay in finding the balance between defending as a unit and defending as an individual. Defending in a 3-5-2 places a lot of onus on the defender pressing the ball, as there is no natural coverage option between the defensive and midfield line. What made matters worse was that England had to defend man for man in midfield, therefore should any of those players miss-time a challenge it would require Southgate or Campbell to leave the back line and cause a 2v2 at the back.

Counter Attack Play

With both teams using a possession based approach as a default, this therefore placed a greater demand on each sides defensive structure. Not only to prevent the opponent from creating chances, but to also prepare themselves for exploiting the opponents’ weaknesses via a counterattack.

Should England win the ball deep in their own half we’d see Batty and Ince quickly spray the ball wide to Anderton or Le Saux, who in turn clipped a ball down the flank to either Shearer or Sheringham to hold up and then create a crossing opportunity. With the strikers pulling wide this therefore allowed Scholes to get into the box as a pseudo third attacker. Alternatively, we also saw penetrative forward movements from England. Scholes was very effective in carrying the ball forward, as was the midfield three in passing forward into Shearer or Sheringham, who after pinning their opponent, would slip the ball wide into forward running Le Saux and Anderton to deliver balls into the box as from within the final third.

Tunisia had less of the ball in the first half and due to England’s aggressive pressing when possession turned they weren’t able to fashion many counter attacks either. Instead they favored remaining defensively solid for much of the opening 45, however they did offer a threat on the counter after England’s set pieces. As we’ll see next, England used set plays well during the game and as such put a lot of bodies into the box, this clip above however shows the threat that Ben Slimane posed due to his movement and athleticism to find the spaces in England’s rearguard.

Set Pieces

All restarts for England appear to be heavily orchestrated, from the rotational movement of players on throw ins to the two-man free kick set ups that are designed to offset the oppositions defensive line. Anderton and Le Saux are comfortable set piece takers, so with a right and left foot on offer at each England set play they are a constant threat. In the video we see the double step over used a few times, designed to move the opponents defensive line and give attackers the opportunity to find a gap, something Alan Shearer was only too happy to do for the opening goal.

Second Half Analysis

Build Up

With Tunisia chasing a goal in the second half coach Kasperczak allowed the wingbacks more freedom to advance forward in moments of buildup, thus creating more passing opportunities as England simply dropped back and sat in a 532 defensive shape. Tunisia would continue to attack the space behind Anderton, with Clayton often finding opportunities to put attacking crosses into the box. Half time substitute Baya would offer more craft in central midfield, which we see from the clips came from crosses in central positions.

It could be argued that while England had less of the ball in the second half, they showed themselves to be more effective when they had the ball. We saw a lot more vertical ball movements in the second half from England’s midfielders (Up, back and through passing sequences) with Ince, Batty and Scholes all running beyond the forward they had initially passed into. This opened more space for whichever midfielder remained back, allowing them to receive a backward pass from the initial target and then switch the point of attack to the opposite side of the field.

With Anderton and Le Saux positioned slightly deeper in the second half, primarily to deal with the threat Tunisia posed, it placed more onus on Shearer and Sheringham to pull into wide areas and offer England width in attack. With each striker pulling wide to put more crosses into the box, this now afforded Scholes more space to work centrally which he used to his advantage for England’s second goal.

Individual Analysis

Sol Campbell

Defensively all three of England’s center backs were very solid, but the standout performer for me had to be Sol Campbell. By this stage in his career Campbell had accrued 16 England caps and was a regular for Tottenham Hotspur. Albeit he was playing as a center back in a 442 every week for his club, I felt he adapted to the role of an outside center back in a 3-5-2 very well, a role which placed far more emphasis on 1v1 defending and managing the players and space around him.

Alan Shearer

England’s captain lead from the front throughout the 90 minutes, offering himself as a focul point in build up and transition, but also offering a real threat in behind Tunisia’s back line through excellent movement to peel off his defender. Arguably still one of the best strikers in world football at the time, Shearer was a shining light for England and started the tournament with a good performance.

Paul Scholes

Scholes was arguably England’s best performer in the opening 45 minutes, getting on the end of crosses, dribbling through pressure and presenting a constant threat to Tunisia. In the second half his on ball involvement would drop, however his ability to find space in the final third remained dangerous and was best illustrated with his 2nd half goal.

Things to Consider

Michael Owen

Michael Owen would make his senior England debut in this match, having featured four times previously in friendly matches. It was evident in his first attack that his explosive speed would offer England something different.

Foul Count & Discipline

While Tunisia were by no means angels in this game, committing continual professional fouls on Alan Shearer for example, England put in their fair share of meaty challenges also. Both Batty and Scholes were very fortunate to stay on the field for two challenges that by todays standards would see them cautioned at the very least.

Wide Area Deliveries from Open Play

While Anderton certainly offered a lot from dead balls in this game his crossing from open play left a lot to be desired. Beckham’s exclusion from the line up caused a stir among the English fanbase and media, therefore Anderton’s performance will no doubt lead to more calls for Beckham’s reinstatement against Romania in seven days time.

The Final Word

The pressure surrounding England matches in the 90s felt enormous, especially those that would open International tournament. The game carried an edge of tension that really never became warranted in my opinion, as England looked to gain control early in the match and never really lost it. The were more needless turn overs in possession than was expected of a side of England’s quality, but as opening games go this was a professional performance with something to build upon.

Defensively England looked assured with the trio of Southgate, Adams and Campbell, both in transition and during periods of Tunisia build up. The only slight concern would be how aggressive Southgate and Campbell were in leaving the back line to press the ball, at times Batty simply wasnt available to slip back in and allow Adams to cover wide areas, which may in future cause issues against sides with better movement up front.

In midfield Batty was safe in possession, as was Ince but with slightly more craft. Scholes did well in breaking the lines and getting into the box, therefore at this level England are well stocked in central creation. They also have options from the bench that remained unused, such as Merson and Beckham, however the only real question that remained unanswered in this game was dealing with opposition pace in midfield. While positionally Batty and Ince cover ground well, neither have the searing speed to recover quickly should England face a team with a competent attacking midfielder or striker that drops deep prior to the counter attack.

Shearer has cemented himself as one of the best players in European football at this time, so his goal will set him up for a strong tournament you would imagine. Sheringham did well to drop and create, but with Owen on the bench England clearly have pace to burn should they feel the need to stretch the game or get in behind an opponent who sits with a higher line than Tunisia.

On to Toulouse now for the next match against Romania on June 22nd.

You can read the original 1998 BBC match report from the BBC website archives by CLICKING HERE

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England World Cup 98 Squad Selection Memories

World Cup 98

England Squad Selection

By Alistair Bain (@allybain)

As Gareth Southgate brings together his provisional 33 man squad ahead of this summer’s European Championships, it lead me to reflect back on my first memory of major selection controversy which would take place on June 1st 1998, with the central characters in this tale being Glenn Hoddle and Paul Gascoigne.

At the time of this particular news story my world view of football was almost entirely UK centric. Growing up in Hamilton in Scotland gave me a closer allegiance to Scottish football, particularly Rangers, however the happenings of English football and its national team was still very much front and center of the football media I’d be consuming. With no sky TV I relied heavily on Shoot and Match magazine to fill the void with football news, allied to the weekly Football Focus and Match of the Day intake that formed nice book ends around my trips to Ibrox on Saturday afternoons. Such was my rudimentary view of football at that the time squad selections for national teams seemed pretty straight forward. Pick your best 22 players, considering for a decent balance between the positions, and jobs a good un. The intricacies of form, injuries, suspensions, player personalities, club allegiances and how football actually functions, were a world away from where my understanding lies today. Better yet, International management seemed like a real life version of Championship Manager, given you don’t really get to train its all about picking the right players surely? Through all the haze of my memories of adolescent thoughts in 1998 one thing does remain crystal clear, and that was how utterly crestfallen I was upon learning that Paul Gascoigne wasn’t selected for France 98. He had reached god-like status in the Bain household, serving as the football savior that I worshipped on a weekly basis as he slalomed passed Bells Premier League opponents with ease, before curling in a perfectly executed strike into the top corner with those mercurial Adidas Predator boots.

By the summer of 1998 I was now old enough to conceptualize the reasoning for his demise as a Rangers player, but it certainly didn’t allow me to accept it. In my utter denial I was unable to view Gascoigne’s transfer to Middlesbrough in March of 1998 as anything other than a disaster for the club. He was supposed to be fighting to win Rangers a 10th straight league title and prepare himself for a strong World Cup showing in France, yet by the end of that summer neither would come to fruition.

Today I want to take you back to the start of Glenn Hoddle’s tenure as England manager, and assess over the course of his World Cup 98 campaign why not picking Gascoigne may have been in the pipeline sooner than we all thought.

Understanding Hoddle

In Glenn Hoddle England were hiring not only someone with an immense pedigree in the British game, but also someone who had performed to an elite level in Europe also. Management at this time required the cache of an elite playing career, not only for the validation it brought to underline their football acumen but to ensure the players and fans respect was immediately forthcoming. Hoddle ticked all of these boxes, but in replacing Venables he had to follow someone who not only performed well at Euro 96 but was an elite level coach in his own right. Hoddle had shown at Swindon and Chelsea that he was a very hands on type of manager, more in the Head Coach mold that had become common place on the continent, so this seemed like a perfect fit for England with Hoddle offering a natural progression from his predecessor. When we delve deeper we soon see the very stark differences between the two, and while aesthically their teams appear similar how they get there is markedly different.

As a man Venables seemed very affable with his players and could rely on a common bond that he created within his group. Looking back on the culture that surrounded football in the 90s it could be regarded as mis-management given some of the reported exploits of his players while on international duty, but as was evident at Euro 96 this squad gave everything and more for the manager. Tactially Venables was perhaps more pragmatic in his approach, something we covered extensively in our analysis of EURO 96, while not wavering from a possession style of play Venables was far more amenable to changing systems when required.

Hoddle on the other hand managed his squad with a higher degree of control than those before him, with many examples being cited by players of that time as unnecessarily micromanaging. He placed restrictions on what players could eat, how they would prepare physically with dietary supplements and even scheduled players to visit his faith healer. In 1996 British footballers were certainly not accustomed to new methods of preparation, therefore the effect Hoddle desired them to have were to take time in being accepted. As Hoddle’s relationship with Gascoigne is concerned it certainly didn’t get off to a great start, where after only a few months in the role Hoddle was faced serious questions over his selection of Gascoigne despite him recently being charged for domestic abuse. In this press conference we hear him answer questions on the subject, as well as giving his take on “his need to change.”

On the field Hoddle was very single minded in his football beliefs and would firmly fall into what is commonly referred to these days as a Philosophy manager. We’ll discuss the intricacies of Hoddle’s game model later in the piece, but his apparent lack of tactical flexibility away from a 352 could be argued that it prevented certain players from realizing their potential as England internationals. With English football favoring an equally rigid 442 set up at club level, traditional full backs and wingers who were featuring at the elite level for their clubs were quite often disregarded. Steve McManaman was a prime example of a talent that by the end of the decade would be lifting the Champions League with Real Madrid, yet he rarely featured for Hoddle due to his limitations within a 352 and inability to adapt to the system. This subsequently led to the breakdown of his relationship with Hoddle and his England career would struggle to gain traction thereafter.

This magnificent article (CLICK HERE) by Rob Smyth for Eurosport delves deeper into the psyche of Glenn Hoddle as England manager and cites numerous examples from players within the 98 squad.

Glenn Hoddle Game Model

Over the course of his two years in charge Hoddle had implemented a very clear playing style within a fluent 3-5-2 structure. While this strategy was very much identifiable at the top level of European football, we need only look at the UEFA Champions League winners Juventus that year who similarly used a 352, almost every player Hoddle was selecting for England played in the English Premier League which was very much a 4-4-2 centric competition at the time. International calendar scheduling was nowhere near as sophisticated as today, so it required Hoddle to get his ideas across in training at a far faster pace such was the lack of preparation time the squads were given in the mid to late 90s.  

When we examine how Hoddle built his England squad we have to start with the back line. While ball playing goalkeepers weren’t as common a fixture in the mid 90s as we see today, in David Seaman England had a starting keeper that was highly competent with the ball at his feet and a shot stopper that had played at the top end of the game for almost a decade.

Within his back three Hoddle liked all players to be solid in possession, but none more so than the central player in the trident. Tony Adams would feature as the prominent figure in this position at the 98 World Cup, but Gareth Southgate was also used in qualifying, as was Sol Campbell centrally. Defensively the central player had to be able to lead the line aggressively to negate any space between the midfielders and the last line as play progressed, something Adams was very suited to doing. The role of the left and right central defenders out of possession was more of a traditional marking center back, with these two players quite often man marking the opposition twin strikers movements. Martin Keown and Gary Neville would feature in the right sided positions, with Sol Campbell and Stuart Pearce doing so on the left. Each of these players are strong in 1v1 defensive situations, which was critical in a system that exposed itself in defensive transition leaving defenders to cover the entire width of the field.

The reason why the spaces became so vacated in wide areas was down to the positioning of the wing backs, which Hoddle believed had to be more active in the midfield line than the defensive one. In the modern era we’ll see sides drop into a line of five defensively, while Hoddle certainly had the players to do so, these positions pressed forward aggressively when in & out of possession. Stuart Pearce had started at left back under Venables with Graeme Le Saux in the squad as his understudy, so it was assumed with Pearce initially retiring after Euro 96 but then laterally coming back to play as a left center back that Le Saux would claim the starting position. With Le Saux suffering with injury through much of 96 and early 97 Everton’s Andy Hinchcliffe would come in to assume the role, although as we moved into 98 roles would reverse with Hinchcliffe missing France 98 through injury and Le Saux moving to Chelsea and becoming the countries most expense full back. On the right side Gary Neville assumed the role of the default right wing back, however as the system evolved and became more of an attacking position we’d see David Beckham and Steve McManaman used in this role. Darren Anderton was a player that Hoddle had admired for some time and prior to France 98 would go on to perform well in the right wing back position, one that he also had experience playing in under Venables in the previous campaign. Based on his selections we can assume that Hoddle didn’t view these positions as being designed for defacto full backs of the time, such as Lee Dixon or Nigel Winterburn of Arsenal, if anything these were wingers who had the ability to cover the entirety of the flanks.  

In central midfield Hoddle often fielded a blend of creativity, craft and defensive solidity. The player positioned deepest in Hoddle’s midfield would, through a modern lens, be classed as a holding player but that wasn’t the case at all in this England set up. We’d see Paul Ince and David Batty play in games throughout Hoddle’s England tenure at the base of a midfield trio, both of whom were happy to advance forward when the time was right but would also relish protecting the spaces in front of the back line with a physical encounter.

The craft in England’s midfield came through players who had the quality to link up play but would also be able to cover ground in both attack and defense. David Beckham seemed the perfect fit for this particular role, such was his energy allied with an elite ability to serve balls from deep and shoot from attacking positions in the final third. Rob Lee was someone who narrowly missed out on the Euro 96 squad under Venables but was highly regarded by Hoddle and regularly made squads during this period. Jamie Redknapp is the final player in this position that strangely only featured once for Hoddle. Perhaps a mixture of injury and bad luck during this period prevented his England career from taking off, as Redknapp fits the mold exactly of a midfielder you’d expect Hoddle to fit into this side.

The final midfield position wasn’t necessarily positioned underneath the striker structurally, like we’d rationalize a Number #10 doing so in todays football parlance, but it was a position that required an elite level of quality on the ball and served as the lynchpin between England’s midfield engine room and the strikers. Paul Gascoigne is the player that would assume this role, as it gave him the creative license to attack forward with multiple options, but also afforded him the defensive solidity behind him should he be unable to get back in defensive transition. Injuries to Gascoigne at the start of 1997 would allow Hoddle to experiment with others in that role, with Matt Le Tissier and Paul Merson initially utilized, however it was in May of 1997 that Paul Scholes would be handed his England debut and almost immediately staked a claim in making the position his own. Scholes impressed at the 1997 World Cup warm up event “Le Tournoi”, in which he would score against Italy and link up well with the teammates around him. With Scholes now a firm fixture in the Man United side, despite him operating in a two man midfield with Roy Keane, the third attacking midfield role seemed a perfect fit for someone who had begun his career as a striker but was now playing in a deeper position.

To finish out Hoddle’s England blue print he would search for a strike pairing to cap off his 352 set up. As would be the case in a 442 of the time it was widely regarded that a strike pair had to assume different characteristics, but the synergy would come from their ability to work in service of each other. This remained the case within Hoddle’s system, however given they had a dedicated creator coming from midfield we saw him frequently field two recognized target men as well as two natural penalty box finishers together. The level of strikers available to Hoddle during this era, even by modern standards, is quite staggering. At the start of Hoddle’s reign he would promote Alan Shearer as the new team captain, therefore it was expected that he would form one half of the attacking duo. Teddy Sheringham showed himself to be a very able strike partner during Euro 96, so he continued to feature throughout the Hoddle era, as did Les Ferdinand who would be Shearer’s strike partner at club level with Newcastle. In addition to this Hoddle would rotate through further options in Ian Wright, Andy Cole, Dion Dublin, Nick Barmby, Robbie Fowler, Stan Collymore and Chris Sutton. A veritable who’s who of strikers who were regularly recording double figures in the English Premier League. What a time to be alive!

Yet it would be an unknown quantity in Michael Owen, who at the start of Hoddle’s England tenure hadn’t even made a first team appearance for his club, that would go on to be the shining light of the World Cup 98 campaign. Aged just 17 at the start of the 97/98 Premier League season Michael Owen would quickly become a starting striker for Roy Evans Liverpool side, making 44 appearances and scoring 23 times in all competitions. It wasn’t until the February of 1998 that Hoddle brought Owen into the national team set up, and no fewer than in four appearances Owen had found his first goal for England. Perhaps a mixture of opportunity and an expectant press surrounding Owen forced Hoddle’s hand to include him in subsequent World Cup games that summer, but as his performance against Argentina was to display Michael Owen was a world class talent in the making.

In these clips from England’s final qualifying group game with Italy we can see the possession based philosophy in play, and how the players combine in wide areas to break the opposition down.

Qualification Campaign

As the qualifying groups were put together England’s failure to qualify for USA 94 meant they had been dropped in their seeding into Pot 2. With a solitary automatic qualifying spot from each group they would have to beat out one of the continents top teams, and unfortunately for England they would be placed in Qualifying group 2 with Italy. The Italians were World Cup Finalists in 1994 but were entering this campaign on the back of a disappointing early exit from Euro 96, after failing to advance out of their group section. Italy were themselves about to embark on a managerial change, with Cesare Maldini coming in to replace the outgoing Arrigo Sacchi. It could be argued the remaining teams in the group, Poland, Georgia and Moldova, would serve as cannon fodder to the top two seeds, however the complexities of advancing via the playoffs, should you finish second, meant that finishing top was the ultimate priority and would inevitably come down to winning as many of the eight qualifying matches as possible.

In February of 1997 England would face Italy at Wembley, after both sides had made a 100% winning start. Despite the home advantage a Gianfranco Zola inspired performance fired the azzuri to a 1-0 victory, giving them 3 points but also an advantage in the qualifying campaign that now required other results to go England’s way.

With pressure mounting on England to maintain pace with the Italians, it would be the Azzuri who faltered first after failing to score in a match in Tiblisi in September 1997 against Georgia, which would end 0-0. This presented England with the opportunity to leapfrog Italy in the table, which they duly obliged with a resounding 4-0 victory over Moldova at Wembley. This now set up an enthralling encounter at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome a month later.

Italy’s home record in qualifying was exceptional so this required a real coming of age performance for Hoddle’s England side, with a single point being enough to get England through. When analyzing the line up its evident that Hoddle has favored experience, but it’s probably what many thought to be his strongest team at the time.

We can see from these highlights that England certainly didn’t plan to sit back and give the game to Italy, if anything Hoddle’s strategy was to keep the ball for long periods and force Italy to tire themselves out through over pressing.

After what was an action packed 90 minutes a 0-0 draw saw England book their place at the World Cup, with a jubilant Gascoigne leading the way in an England team that looked every part a contender for the up coming tournament in France. How can someone so influential in this game find himself out of contention by the end of that season? Well, I have a theory.

Away from England duty Gascoigne would take part in a crucial Old Firm match for Rangers in November of 1997, a game that would subsequently derail Rangers’ title bid after a late equalizer from Celtic’s Alan Stubbs. With Rangers building up a decent lead over their rivals the 1-1 result seemed to galvanize Celtic in a way that seemed to be equally corrosive for Rangers. Why this was so significant for England and Hoddle was Gascoigne’s involvement ended that night in the 65th minute, with him being shown a straight red card after a clash with Celtic’s Morten Weighorst.

We’ve since learned that idle time doesn’t serve Gascoigne well, and from this point forward his season would degenerate into a spiral of depression and injury that would ultimately end with his departure from the club in March 1998. Walter Smith had simply had enough, and at this point it gave Hoddle some serious food for thought. 

Squad Announcement

June 1st 1998; Glenn Hoddle would announce his final 22 man squad in front of an expecting press conference at the team’s training base in La Manga, Spain. The day prior Hoddle had met with each player individually, discussing the plans for those who were included for what lay ahead that summer and to personally deliver the message of non-selection for those who hadn’t. In what has been described by many within the squad as a day of tension and anguish, the much publicized incident with one player in particular makes this particular squad selection a very memorable one.

Hoddle had capped 40 players during what would become his only full campaign as England manager. He ended the international careers of Steve Stone, Mark Wright, Steve Howey, Peter Beardsley and David Platt before the qualifying campaign had begun, but during the course of 96, 97 and 98 would hand debuts to Rio Ferdinand, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Michael Owen. With many of England’s top players entering their peak years and a raft of exciting youth talent emerging, the country waited with baited breath as to who Hoddle would select in his twenty two man squad.

*Players highlighted in red are those who made the World Cup 22 man squad.

For the final training camp Hoddle would select a 28 man squad that would compete in three preparation games against Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Belgium. At the end of the camp here are the players who Hoddle would leave out:

Ian Walker / Goalkeeper / Tottenham

01ASUA2U; IAN WALKER Tottenham Hotspur FC and England International Footballer Seen at Bisham Abbey during an England Squad open training session for the 1998 World Cup. COMPULSORY CREDIT: UPPA/Photoshot…

Walker had made the Euro 96 squad under Venables and was widely considered as a future starting player as he established himself as a Premier League keeper with Tottenham. While he featured briefly for Hoddle in qualifying Nigel Martyn was selected ahead of him.

Phil Neville / Defender / Man United

Phil Neville was another player that Venables had included in the Euro 96 squad, aged just 19 at the time, however he hadn’t featured much under Hoddle despite making 24 starts for United in the 97/98 campaign. The only realistic position Phil Neville would feature of England would be in the wing back areas, and due to his versatility could do so on either side, but given the competition for places in the squad it would be hard to see who he’d displace.

Nicky Butt / Midfielder / Man United

Butt had established himself as a regular England squad member by the summer of 1998, and in the 97/98 season he would make 31 appearances for a very strong Man United side. The Central midfield positions in this particular England squad was hotly contested, therefore with Hoddle favoring more experience in these positions Butt’s exclusion does make sense.

Dion Dublin / Striker / Coventry City

Dublin had finished the 97/98 season as joint top scorer in the Premier League on 18 goals with Michael Owen & Chris Sutton, and would make his England debut in February of 1998. Scoring 18 goals for mid table Coventry was no mean feat, and it would earn him a move to Aston Villa in the process. Despite his form Hoddle would publicly state he favored Les Ferdinand as the target man of choice for his squad, which on reflection is probably a fair choice.

Andy Hinchcliffe / Full Back / Everton

Only injury would prevent Hinchcliffe’s inclusion in the World Cup squad, something that he also suffered ahead of the Euro 96 squad selection. This paved the way for Graeme Le Saux who was more than capable of starting in this position, yet it would be an area England continued to lack depth in for some time.

Paul Gascoigne / Midfielder / Middlesbrough

Despite a resurgent end to the 97/98 season with Middlesbrough in England’s 1st division, it was fairly evident that Gascoigne was fighting a losing battle to re-establish himself as a viable entity by this stage. Eight months is certainly a long time in football, but considering where he was in October 97 compared to June of 98 its almost hard to comprehend. Looking at pictures of his Middlesbrough signing day it was clear he was physically out of shape, much of which was brought on by his mental health at the time and lack of support system, but with other candidates staking their claim it almost appeared like a token gesture by Hoddle to involve him in the end of season World Cup preparation matches in Morocco.

Gascoigne faced stiff competition from his Middlesbrough teammate Paul Merson who had finished a wonderful season on Teeside by spear heading the clubs return to the Premier League, and was rewarded with a return to the England fold after a four year absence. Despite Man United narrowly losing out on the title Paul Scholes continued to go from strength to strength, and since the turn of the year had become a regular for both club and country.

When I weigh up the options Hoddle had to pick from, I have to say, there is an embarrassment of riches there. Its arguably the strongest group of players any England manager has had to pick from in my lifetime, so in making the decision to leave out Gascoigne there is justifiable evidence there should Hoddle want to use it. I personally don’t subscribe to the notion that Glenn Hoddle sought to make a name for himself with Gascoigne’s exclusion, as had been suggested by many reporters and namely Gascoigne himself, Hoddle didn’t stand to gain anything personally from doing so and his reputation within English football certainly didn’t need elevated. I do however believe that Hoddle was deep rooted in his belief of how footballers should lead their lives and what level of dedication they must impart upon their careers. Gascoigne was clearly failing to meet those standards, so in a very cerebral way Hoddle was able to compartmentalize what that exclusion meant to the greater good of the team and its supporters, seeing his exclusion as one less headache to worry about in France. A further example of this was David Beckham’s exclusion from the opening game of the 98 World Cup against Tunisia. After cementing himself as a starting player in the run up to the tournament Hoddle described Beckham as becoming “distracted” given his public relationship with Victoria Beckham at the time, citing that the media attention had removed his concentration from the match itself.

With all of this considered what we must understand is the depth of feeling the football public had for Gascoigne that superseded virtually anyone in that squad. For so many England fans in an age whereby league football was no longer available to the terrestrial viewer and the names of club heroes were now imported from other countries, Gascoigne represented the everyman that British football had always had in the decades prior. He was the literal embodiment of what a working-class person living his dream looked like. While Gascoigne was perhaps one of the last vestiges of these figures within the changing landscape of British football his exclusion, while on a purely clinical football level was probably correct, for so many other reasons it felt like a complete missed opportunity. Glenn Hoddle remains a very complex character and, in this instance, presided over an equally complex situation that brought the curtain down on the England career of Paul Gascoigne. If England had gone on to win France 98 perhaps the memories of this period would be different, and the actions surrounding non selection would be vindicated, however for me their remains that element of doubt as to what could have been for England in 98 had Gascoigne been selected to attend.