Football: England still dependent on Gascoigne: Saturday's substandard performers likely to survive to face Norway as Taylor avoids overhaul in favour of loyalty

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PAUL GASCOIGNE will have to moderate his intake to regain his old pre-eminence, but behind the glutton's mask lies a bulging talent, and England are looking for a dash of his intoxicating ability to befuddle Norway in tonight's make-or-break World Cup tie.

For all the talk of leaving him out, it is inconceivable that Graham Taylor would risk the public outcry which would follow if he dropped a potential match-winner for such an important fixture and lost.

Gascoigne is not at his best - he is the first to admit it - but even at 90 per cent effectiveness he is a class above the alternatives.

Uncomfortably aware of the game's significance, Taylor wants to keep the Norwegians in the dark (some chance in this land of the midnight sun) by delaying the announcement of his team. The strong probability, though, is that he will shy away from the major surgery mooted in the aftermath of Saturday's 1-1 draw with Poland.

Lee Dixon, fit again after his kidney ailment, is expected to displace David Bardsley at right-back, David Batty will deputise for the suspended Paul Ince on the right side of midfield and Les Ferdinand has shaken off his disc trouble to take over from Teddy Sheringham in attack.

Otherwise, it is likely to be as you were, with Des Walker and John Barnes fortunate to survive their latest substandard performances, in Chorzow.

There is a good case for replacing Walker, whose confidence is shot to pieces, with either Gary Pallister or Martin Keown. Ditto the slothful Barnes, who must be under extreme pressure from Lee Sharpe and Andy Sinton. Taylor, however, is long on loyalty and continuity, and to make four or five changes would be out of character.

Approaching a tie England must win to retain a decent chance of qualifying, the manager was prepared to be drawn only on Gascoigne's form and fitness. He was not as fit as he should be, Taylor said. Why not, given Lazio's spartan training regime? 'It's a matter of how you feed and refuel yourself between training sessions.'

A pointer towards the specifics of this dietary deficiency was provided by the man himself, who said: 'The doctor at Lazio told me I should try drinking wine, because it would be good for me. When I did, he had one look at me and said: 'You'd better go back on the beer.'

Gascoigne admitted he had not played well against Poland. 'I wasn't happy with my performance. My passing was off and my set plays weren't very good. I've set my standards and I have to keep to them. If I don't, I'm going to get a bit of stick, and I accept that. I've spoken to a few people back home, who told me I got off lightly for Saturday.

'I was mad with myself. I rushed things for no reason. When I had time on the ball, I wasted it, and when I turned and tried to get away from people, it just wasn't there. I'm not as fit as I would like to be, and I'm not sure why, because we train a lot at Lazio, but the first year in Italy has been tough, and I know I've got to raise my fitness level by 10 per cent or so.'

Marked and balked at every turn by the combative Poles, Gascoigne is likely to find even less time and space in a packed midfield tonight, when both England and Norway will deploy a 4-5-1 formation.

The Norwegians habitually use only one forward, and Taylor is expected to play them at their own cat- and-mouse game, with David Platt attacking from deep.

The disparate midfield talents of Platty, Batty and Fatty should provide a solid and inventive platform for Ferdinand, who envisages no problems as solitary striker. 'I've done it before, and I'm confident I've got the pace to make it work.'

He had demonstrated that speed, he said, by beating Walker in training. 'So what?' came an Italian sneer from the back. 'Doesn't everyone these days?'

Cruel, but increasingly true. What has happened to the man who was England's defensive bulwark at the last World Cup? It would be nice to have his opinion, but Walker refuses all requests for interviews with the same dismissive phrase. It will probably be on his tombstone: Here lies Des Walker ('I'd rather not').

He and the other England defenders will need all their accumulated nous to keep out a Norwegian team who rattled in 10 against San Marino and have not stopped scoring since.

The Group Two leaders are unbeaten, with nine points from five games and an impressive goal difference of 18-3. They have lost just two of their last 16 matches and have, according to Taylor, 'probably the most settled side in Europe'.

Their manager, Egil Olsen, insists they will be going for victory, rather than one point to consolidate their leadership, but injury has deprived him of the experienced Jahn-Ivar Jakobsen, who gives way to Lillestrom's Lars Bohinen in midfield.

The last time England were here, in 1981, an unexpected home win sent the Norwegian commentator into paroxysms of delight: 'Maggie Thatcher, Winston Churchill, Lady Di - your boys took a hell of a beating.'

Radio 5 are looking to respond in kind tonight, but Roald Amundsen, Thor Heyerdahl and Victor Borge may not get an airing. It looks ominously like another 1-1.

NORWAY: Thorstvedt (Tottenham Hotspur); Halle (Oldham Athletic), Bjornebye (Liverpool), Bratseth (Werder Bremen), Pedersen (Brann), Flo (Sogndal), Mykland (Start), Rekdal (Lierse), Bohinen (Young Boys Berne), Leonhardsen (Rosenborg Trondheim), Fjortoft (Rapid Vienna).

ENGLAND (probable): Woods (Sheffield Wednesday); Dixon (Arsenal), Adams (Arsenal), Walker (Sampdoria), Dorigo (Leeds United), Batty (Leeds United), Palmer (Sheffield Wednesday), Platt (Juventus), Gascoigne (Lazio), Barnes (Liverpool), Ferdinand (Queen's Park Rangers).

Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit will miss the Netherlands' World Cup qualifier with Norway next Wednesday. The Dutch coach, Dick Advocaat, said that Van Basten wants to recover fully from last December's ankle operation, while Gullit, Advocaat said, has retired from international football.

Jimmy Quinn, the Reading striker, comes into the Northern Ireland side for tonight's Group Three qualifier in Latvia. He replaces Southampton's Iain Dowie, the birth of whose first child is imminent.

Cole salvages Under-21 point,

Gough's farewell, page 33

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