England plan to roll over Spanish rock

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England have two dates with destiny today. The second will be at Wembley, in front of nearly 80,000 passionate supporters whose raised voices and waving flags will have the grand old lady of football stadia rocking to the core of her twin towers.

The first will be on the lawn of a quiet English country hotel where three footballers will go through a variety of exercises watched by an audience of six. The outcome in the afternoon may depend on the verdicts of the morning.

The three players undergoing fitness tests at Burnham Beeches hotel will be Tony Adams, Darren Anderton and, most crucially of all, Alan Shearer. They will be attempting to convince Terry Venables and his coaching and medical staffs that they are ready for a demanding European Championship quarter-final against Spain.

It will be a time for making tough decisions. Venables desperately wants the trio to play - but he knows, in a game that could go into extra time, against physically uncompromising opposition, that he cannot take chances.

The big worry is Shearer, the big doubt Adams. Adams is still being troubled by the after-effects of the knee operation he had in January. He should be fit to start, but extra time would be a problem.

Shearer has a thigh injury. "I took a knock during Tuesday's match but I did not notice anything until Wednesday afternoon," he said yesterday. "It was stiff on Thursday morning and, though it is a bit better today I can't tell what it will be like tomorrow. I'll be giving it my best shot."

Having scored four goals in three games Shearer is the hottest forward in the tournament and England would be tempted to play him even if he was on crutches. Just having him in the side will lift his team-mates and worry the Spanish and it seems certain he will start, even if he cannot finish the match.

Which brings us to Anderton. If England play Adams and Shearer in the knowledge they may not last the game, Anderton will have to be fully recovered from his hamstring niggle. Neither he nor Adams trained yesterday while Shearer only did the warm-up.

England are already without Paul Ince, who is suspended, and Jamie Redknapp, his most obvious replacement, who has damaged ankle ligaments. David Platt and Sol Campbell are vying to take Ince's place with Platt's experience likely to be preferred. If Adams or Anderton are unfit both may play.

It would be a big step for Campbell, who is yet to start a match for England having played just 40 minutes in two substitute appearances. He is a better player than his brief display last Saturday - when he struggled to catch the pace of the Scotland game - suggested. He is immensely strong and has long been groomed for England having attended the FA National school and impressed at under-18 and under-21 level. If he has a problem it is that he is so good in so many different positions he has yet to make one of them his own.

Be warned, the game is not expected to be a repeat of the rout of the Dutch. Not because England cannot play as well again but because the Spanish are unlikely to allow them to. Whereas the Dutch looked to attack, the Spanish will seek to defend. Venables said he would "not be surprised' if they play just one forward and pack the midfield.

They are also expected to be physical. Javier Clemente, the manager, has built a hard-working team with the emphasis on work-rate rather than flair. "They are well organised, with a good team spirit and good technical ability. They won't lie down," Venables said.

This is underlined by a look at their goals so far - a 73rd-minute equaliser against Bulgaria, an 85th-minute equaliser against France, and an 85th- minute winner against Romania. They are unbeaten in 20 matches and two years since the last World Cup. In Andoni Zubizarreta, Miguel Nadal, Fernando Hierro and Juan Antonio Pizzi they possess the classic strong spine. "They will work hard at denying us space and stopping the things we want to do," Venables said.

That tenacity may be especially important today as it is the first full international match to incorporate the "golden goal" (aka sudden-death) rule. This means that, if the scores are level at 90 minutes, extra time will be contested under the playground principle of "next goal wins it". If no one scores after 30 extra minutes, penalties ensue.

It is an innovation Venables, who lost a European Cup final on penalties with Barcelona, supports. "After losing on penalties I just felt numb," he recalled. "It did not feel bad, or good, just very strange. At least the 'golden goal' is football."

The England coach was his customary self, outwardly relaxed but ever watchful. When football's paparazzi began pulling the usual stunts he was persuaded to pose with a "Spanish senorita" (actually a press-ganged English blonde who was working for the sponsors) but could not be talked into waving a red matador's cape. You could almost see him thinking, "Spain will be tough enough without Clemente pinning that on the dressing-room wall".

England to win, and join Germany, Portugal and France in the last four.

Euro 96, pages 24 and 25

at Wembley today, Kick-off 3pm

SPAIN

ZUBIZARRETA

VALENCIA

LOPEZ

ATLETICO MADRID

ALKORTA

REAL MADRID

ABELARDO

BARCELONA

SERGI

BARCELONA

HIERRO

REAL MADRID

MANJARIN

DEPORTIVO

KIKO

ATLETICO MADRID

NADAL

BARCELONA

CAMINERO

ATLETICO MADRID

PIZZI

TENERIFE

ENGLAND

SHEARER

BLACKBURN

SHERINGHAM

TOTTENHAM

ANDERTON

TOTTENHAM

PLATT

ARSENAL

GASCOIGNE

RANGERS

McMANAMAN

LIVERPOOL

SOUTHGATE

ASTON VILLA

PEARCE

NOTTM FOREST

ADAMS

ARSENAL

G NEVILLE

MAN UTD

SEAMAN

ARSENAL

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