"Don't tell anyone this yet son, but I'm not taking Gazza to the World Cup. If you do well today then you're in with a real chance of taking his place..."

Not Glenn Hoddle's exact words to Matt Le Tissier before England's last B international in 1998 perhaps, but certainly the underlying message would have been much the same.

Le Tissier, at the time England's most naturally-gifted player after Paul Gascoigne and without his addiction to alcohol went out and scored a hat-trick against Russia, hit the woodwork twice and created the fourth goal for Les Ferdinand in a 4-1 win at QPR's Loftus Road.

Hoddle's response was to leave both Gascoigne and the Saints legend out of his squad, though Darren Anderton did struggle off his sick-bed briefly to play in that game against Russia and be named in the 23 for France '98.

No wonder Chris Sutton had refused to play in the B internationals, saying he would be on "a hiding to nothing".

Hoddle's decision to play the game now looks deeply flawed not his first bad decision, and perhaps not his last but there are significant differences between that and the B international Sven-Goran Eriksson has arranged against Belarus tonight.

While Hoddle used it as an exercise to decide who to pick for his squad, for Eriksson it is an opportunity to give fitness to those players who have been short of matches.

And to cast an eye over those, specifically Michael Carrick and Theo Walcott, for whom Wayne Rooney's broken metatarsal means they may be thrust into the fray in Germany next month.

England and Eriksson are certainly not on a hiding to nothing at the Madejski Stadium.

With Rooney unlikely to be ready for England's first match on June 10, it is imperative that Peter Crouch and the rusty Michael Owen create an understanding under the semi-competitive conditions of the game against Belarus and the full friendlies versus Hungary and Jamaica next week.

What will interest Eriksson most, however, is how Carrick performs. For despite England's wealth of midfield talent, most of it is in the form of attacking personnel rather than protective players.

In his days at West Ham, Carrick was not regarded as being in the class as Joe Cole and Frank Lampard. That has now changed, though it has taken the intelligent guidance of Martin Jol at Spurs to see the Geordie blossom into an international-class player.

If Carrick can be the link man in midfield, and the barrier in front of the defenders, then it should give more freedom to Lampard, Cole, Steven Gerrard and David Beckham to go forward.

The B team will have Aaron Lennon and Stewart Downing on the right and left flanks respectively, two quick young wingers who will be given the opportunity to show their youthful vigour, though both will be nothing more than possible substitutes in the World Cup.

Finally, of course, there is Walcott, the brave new hope for English football.

We will see him at some time tonight, and the level of interest will be profound.

Walcott will almost certainly be regarded by Eriksson as a super-sub in the World Cup, someone who can be brought on to use his devastating pace to try and hurt tiring opponents.

However, if Rooney is fit, Walcott may find himself left in what has so far been his Arsenal role: on the bench, savouring the occasion but not risked.

Eriksson really needs to give Walcott a proper test.

He also needs to advise him to go out and try to play without fear, and to learn to bear the weight of expectation as easily as Rooney does himself, so that it does not become a burden.

B internationals in Hoddle's era were proved a waste of time.

Tonight's game might just be the start of something great.