Football: Seaman on a mission to prevent Zola repeating himself

Wembley absentee sets his focus on little feet

If England are to deny Gianfranco Zola in Rome tonight they will need another dominating performance from David Seaman.

Ian Ridley found the England goalkeeper ready to go to work.

David Seaman is hoping that the week ends more successfully than it began. "He beat me 5-0," England's goalkeeper lamented after a fishing trip with Paul Gascoigne. Tonight the aim is the opposite; to keep that figure as slippery as any trout, Gianfranco Zola, from finding the net.

It becomes increasingly difficult to second-guess the Englan coach, Glenn Hoddle, and predict accurately an England team these days but it is usually a pretty safe bet that Seaman's name will be the first on the list, literally and metaphorically.

As seen in the penalty saves of Euro 96, against Scotland and Spain - since when he has conceded only two goals in eight games under Hoddle - his air of calm reassurance is crucial to England. "If the young lads are getting nervous, I'll have a quiet word with them," he says, accepting that he is among the team's elder statesmen. His imposing presence seems also a deterrent to strikers.

It is with a little fellow that he and England are most concerned tonight, however. "You look at various strikers just to see if they do anything different. At set-pieces you can usually see, but sometimes it's hard to tell who's actually shooting when it's in the game. You are supposed to be watching the ball, you know.

"But I know Zola does pose quite a few problems, especially at free-kicks. He's crafty. He's got such tiny feet and can make the ball do a lot of things with hardly any backlift." Seaman recently reacquainted himself with it all at first hand, when Zola scored for Chelsea against Arsenal, though the goal owed most to Mark Hughes's teasing cross.

Seaman was absent with a cartilage injury when Zola's shot deflected off Sol Campbell last February at Wembley, Ian Walker then the victim. "I was stuck in a traffic jam on the M25 listening on the radio coming back from the specialist," Seaman recalls, though he feels as vengeful as any participant that night. "There is nothing more we would like to do than beat them after what they did at Wembley," he says.

It will, he knows, be an intense experience. "I don't know if you can enjoy it. Maybe afterwards when you get the right result. It's work and there is a lot of pressure but we know what's coming, what to expect." He is, after all, a veteran of '93 and Rotterdam, almost shuddering at the memory. "That was different. It was sudden death," he says. "If we do get beaten this time at least we have another chance."

Seaman himself does not expect as physical a test as the other England players. "It is different with goalkeepers because the ref watches and as soon as anyone touches us they give a free-kick. In other parts of the field I expect there will be a lot of man-for-man marking. Man-for- man wrestling, really."

What does concern him are the Olympic Stadium floodlights. "Lights make a massive difference to you. Even Highbury is a totally different place at night. Looking for a cross, you can lose the ball in the lights and I have done. A lot of keepers do.

"One problem at Arsenal was having six or seven lights so close together in the corners and I managed to get the club to change that. The best type for a keeper are the pylons. But I don't think the Italians are likely to start hitting high balls in there." He has not been successful in getting a training session under the Rome lights, but Hoddle did not seem too concerned. "Goalkeepers will make any excuse," he said.

Seaman was making none about recent errors, notably the goal at Highbury with which PAOK Salonika eliminated Arsenal from the Uefa Cup, which have led some to question his form, though he insists with the promising Austrian Alex Manninger pushing him at Highbury, and an in-form Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright to practice against, he is sharp enough.

In fact, he believes, his opposite number, Angelo Peruzzi, who conceded three for Juventus against Manchester United last week, will come into the game with more concerns about form. "He looks small but he gets himself around," Seaman says. "I don't like letting in goals in. I don't know what type of guy he is but I wouldn't be happy.

"I'm used to criticism," he goes on, adding aptly and accurately. "I am there to be shot at." Though 34, last month, he does not believe he is yet at his peak. "I would say no. There's still a lot to learn. Plus, I might get another contract out of it."

Ray Clemence, England's goalkeeping coach, chips in: "It's because David's mistakes are so rare that people pick them up. It's also easy to forget some of his less publicised contributions, like a great save against Barnsley last Saturday when it was 0-0."

England and Seaman will settle for as much tonight. "It's all about qualifying," he says. "It's all about focusing on not making a mistake."

Though Seaman has been looking relaxed, there has been no opportunity for his and Gazza's favourite relaxation in Italy. "Besides, if we did go fishing over here, we'd need about 20 policemen with us," he said. Instead, the concentration has been on attempting to ensure that Italy sleep with the fishes.

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