Football: England must clip Dutch wings

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The Independent Online
"We'll be aiming to win," Terry Venables pledged. Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? A more accurate assessment of England's approach to tonight's final group A match with the Netherlands was delivered by Gareth Southgate. "We'll go out looking to win," he said.

At the risk of misreading his meaning, the inference is that England may not end the game in the same attacking mood. A draw will send both teams through and, if the scores are level after an hour, it is hard to imagine either throwing players forward in the search for victory.

Venables suggested neither side are the sort to play for a draw but one recalls Italia '90 when Ireland and the Netherlands played out a very tame last 20 minutes in Palermo having realised a draw would enable both sides to progress. Those with longer memories may think back to the goalless encounter between England and Northern Ireland at Wembley in late 1985 which sent both countries to the Mexico World Cup.

So, while deliberate complicity is unlikely, the odds favour a draw (literally in this case, Ladbrokes having taken a similar view). However, this reasoning does not take into account individuals. Paul Gascoigne, for one, does not do anything half-heartedly and there are several England players with a Dutch score to settle. Five of the present squad were in the team knocked out of the last World Cup in Rotterdam three years ago. They include David Platt, who was infamously hauled down by Ronald Koeman when on the brink of putting England ahead. Another, Tony Adams, was in the side beaten in the 1988 European Championships.

Adams is fit to play tonight, as is Paul Ince, a Rotterdam survivor, but Platt will again face a fitness test. Jamie Redknapp's ankle ligament injury has already ruled him out.

With the Dutch expected to attack on both wings England are likely to revert to a four-man defence. Ostensibly this would simply mean playing the four that faced Switzerland with Gareth Southgate slotting in alongside Adams, but it may also be time to introduce Phil Neville. His addition would certainly quicken a defence which is not blessed with pace.

Youth may also be given a place further forward. Nick Barmby has impressed in training and, with Teddy Sheringham struggling to make an impact, it Barmby's mobility may be pitted against Danny Blind's experience.

Darren Anderton and Alan Shearer are the other players at risk. Given Shearer's return to form is seems daft to omit him but, like Anderton, he came into the championships fresh from injury. Despite his contribution to Saturday's goals, Anderton looks in need of a break. Shearer does not, but he is on a yellow card. But, dare England save him for the quarter- final, and so risk not getting there?

Probably not. It is hard to see England winning without him. They have not beaten the Netherlands in five matches since 1982. Indeed, they have won only one game against the world's leading powers (Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands) in 10 years and 18 matches - and that only because Stuart Pearce's goal-line handball against Brazil in 1990 was not spotted).

Against that England have been beaten once in 21 games since Rotterdam and once in 26 at Wembley. That was last summer's loss to Brazil, the only defeat since 1991.

The Dutch, as usual, are rowing with each other. Venables said he would take no account of it but Edgar Davids' departure is certainly a bonus. As yet no one has followed him but rumours persist that Clarence Seedorf will do so voluntarily if he does not play tonight - and do so in an attacking midfield role.

The midfielder did little to quell such speculation yesterday when he said: "I've talked about things with [Guus] Hiddink [the coach], about what I want to happen, but we haven't finished yet. There are some things we still have to resolve." Seedorf was substituted for his own good after being booked and almost dismissed playing as a defensive midfielder against Switzerland. His performance aroused suspicions in the Dutch camp that he was trying to get himself sent off, but he said: "It was disappointing for me to play for only a short while. I'd waited three days to play, built myself up, and anticipated I would play 90. It ended up with me playing barely 25. That wasn't very enjoyable."

The theory that the Dutch have to be in dispute to play well is not borne out by results. For all their talent they have won just one major title, the 1988 European Championship, and then the arguments had been settled before the tournament. England will hope they have plenty to row about tomorrow.

Euro 96, pages 26 and 27