Football: England turn to Gascoigne for dream start

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The Independent Online
URGED to pick Gazza and let the Norwegians do the worrying, Graham Taylor complied, and looked a lot happier for it.

If banter won football matches, England would be home and dry at Wembley tonight instead of a risky bet to beat Norway and give themselves a decent chance of qualifying for the 1994 World Cup.

While they will have to perform to the very best of their ability, individual and collective, to overcome the early pace-setters in Group Two, the signs, it must be said, are encouraging.

The repartee between manager, players and press yesterday indicated that England were in good form in the psychological sense, if not on the playing front. Half the battle - the half fought in the mind - would seem to have been won.

The return of Paul Gascoigne has probably done more than anything to win it. Daft-as-a-brush is suddenly uncommonly serious in his burning desire to prove himself all over again, and the Norwegians may have reason to rue their suggestion that he is not fit, and poses no threat to their 100 per cent start to the qualifying series.

The players sat around him at England's Berkshire base smiled with anticipation when he said: 'I don't respect Norway. I don't respect anybody when I play, so I don't have any worries about who I'm playing against. Afterwards, perhaps. When I'm on the pitch, no.'

Twenty months since his last game for England, The Man is in the mood. He is not alone. An extra 30,000 tickets have been sold since it emerged that Gazza was a genuine contender for a place in the starting line-up, and Wembley is forecasting 60,000-plus.

Partly to cover for Gascoigne's suspect stamina - the smart money is on a substitution after an hour - but also by inclination, Taylor has come up with a selectorial throwback. Wingless Wonders. 1966 revisited.

Passe it may be, but England are reverting to good old 4-4-2. For Geoff Hurst read Alan Shearer, for Nobby Stiles how about David Batty, or 'The Convict', as Taylor calls his favourite skinhead. For Bobby Charlton and Martin Peters, try Gazza and David Platt.

Sacrilege? Jack Charlton would be the first to say so. The Giraffe, 1992 version, is the Arsenal retread, Tony Adams - murdered by Niall Quinn last time out, but back, 18 months on, as Taylor's 'logical choice'.

Adams returns for his 20th cap not, according to the manager, to do a one-off job on Goran Sorloth, the Norwegian totem, but strictly on merit, and with the invitation to start a second international career at the age of 26.

'The opportunity is there for him to make the position his own,' Taylor said. Explanation being necessary, he did his best to supply it. 'The thing I like about Tony is that even when he's not having the best of games himself, it never stops him encouraging, helping and giving advice to those around him.'

Tony Adams, agony aunt? Not exactly. 'What I want from him is the same utter desire to do well that he shows for Arsenal - the same kind of character he leads his club with.' Understandably, Taylor preferred to dwell on the potential of his creative players rather than the shortcomings of a back-four featuring three defenders - Adams, Lee Dixon and Stuart Pearce - whose form has been below par.

'Let's be positive, let's talk about what we can do,' was the managerial response when it was put to him that neither of his centre- halves was adept at bringing the ball out into midfield.

The lack of breadth in a team without wingers was another cause for concern - and one Taylor was prepared to acknowledge. 'I have discussed that with the players,' he said. 'We are well aware of the need to use the full width of the pitch.'

Norway's deployment of only one forward frees England's full- backs to push down the flanks, and Gascoigne has licence to drift wide and roam. The emphasis will be on early, and regular, delivery of the ball to Shearer and Ian Wright, the strikers of whom much - possibly too much - is expected in their first outing together.

Gazza notwithstanding, Norway are not exactly quaking with apprehension. Since losing 1-0 to Denmark six months ago they are unbeaten in six matches, against the Faroe Islands (2-0), Scotland (0-0), Sweden (2-2), San Marino (10-0), the Netherlands (2-1) and San Marino again (2-0) and, with maximum points from their first three qualifiers, they are bristling with confidence and determination.

Jahn-Ivar Jakobsen, their dashing little left-winger, unhinged the Dutch defence three weeks ago, and they feel he is fully capable of turning Dixon and providing a match-winning service for Sorloth.

Norway are heavily dependent on their solitary striker, which in turn leaves England reliant on Adams - the defender derided as a donkey by tabloids and terraces alike. If you have ears, Tony, prepare to shed them now.

(Photograph omitted)