Football: England's combine harvesters: Joe Lovejoy endorses the Shearer-Wright World Cup partnership favoured by Graham Taylor

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The Independent Online
HISTORY'S habit of repeating itself is a double-edged sword, and we could do without 1981 revisited on Wednesday night, when Norway come calling at Wembley at the start of England's attempt to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.

Eleven years ago, when the Norwegians were still part-time nobodies, they beat an England team with Nelson, Beaverbrook and Churchill at half- back, if Oslo's Brian Moore was to be believed.

Norway have improved in leaps and bounds in the interim, England have gone backwards, but an optimist's rummage through the rooms turned up a promising parallel with that most hallowed of World Cup years, 1966.

Then, as now, a manager dedicated to the work ethic was keen to replace a languid goalscoring maverick with a diligent partnership. Sir Alf Ramsey (then plain Alf) gave up on Jimmy Greaves in favour of Geoff Hurst and Roger Hunt. Graham Taylor seemed to be playing Gary Lineker on sufferance in the run- up to his retirement from international football, and Taylor, too, has made it plain that he favours a more orthodox strikeforce, with two forwards scoring regularly, rather than one.

His selections have been notoriously capricious, but, as Taylor himself conceded yesterday, the two in question next Wednesday must surely be Alan Shearer and Ian Wright, who stand head and shoulders above the rest as the best strikers in the country.

Shearer has rattled in 15 goals in his first 13 appearances for Blackburn Rovers, and is beginning to look something of a snip at pounds 3.3m. Wright, hampered by injury, has still managed to add seven to the 29 which made him the League's leading scorer last season.

Hurst knows more than most about what it takes to score goals in World Cup football, and the man whose hat- trick had them on the pitch, thinking it was all over, is adamant that both should play against Norway. 'They are the obvious choices,' he said.

The centre-forward who put the Hammer in West Ham was not inclined to argue with the Hurst-Shearer comparison which appeared in these columns on Monday.

'I'll go along with that,' he said. 'Shearer is a straightforward, hard- working, courageous striker. I like him. If we are talking about England, it should encourage everyone that he has coped with the pressure of being transferred for a lot of money, and is performing so well. The start he has had with Blackburn is phenomenal.'

Hurst believes it is essential to England's World Cup well-being that they should have two strikers knocking the goals in, not just one.

He explained: 'The game may be faster now, but the basic requirement is no different than it was in my day. If you don't score enough goals, you won't win enough matches. The most important thing, when you are picking your front two, is that they have the ability to score regularly.

'Goals have to be a striker's priority, and you need to be averaging one every two games, at least, for your club if you are going to play for England. If you are not doing that, you won't make it at international level.'

Lineker's preferred partner was always Peter Beardsley, but Hurst came to view their combination in the same sceptical light as Taylor and Bobby Robson. 'Beardsley made a lot for Gary, but didn't score many (eight in 49 games) himself. If he'd scored a few more, he'd still be in the side. He is a good footballer, but unfortunately he didn't contribute enough when it came to knocking them in, and that's the only criterion a striker should be judged by.

'Working well together as partners is important, but not as important as both strikers scoring their share of goals. If your strikers don't score, where are the goals going to come from?'

Shearer was 'the obvious first choice', Wright his 'logical partner' in Hurst's view.

Plausible alternatives are few and far between, and they would seem to have a fair chance of complementing one another, and making a good pair. One floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee, a la Muhammad Ali; the other conceals surprising power in a comparatively slight frame. A footballing Marciano.

Shearer's strength, aggression and youthful exuberance create as many opportunities for his team-mates as they do for England's 'other' Geordie. On his home debut he quickly won over the Ewood Park crowd by shouldering Jimmy Carter aside and driving through Tony Adams to score the winner against Arsenal. Typical. Last Saturday he was at it again, putting himself about like a cross between Hurst and Malcolm Macdonald, and twice dumping Norwich City's Ian Butterworth on his backside to lay on goals for Roy Wegerle.

For Taylor, who had little time for Lineker's gentle approach, it is a case of vive la difference. He said: 'The good thing about Alan is that he works extremely hard. He puts defenders under pressure, and that's not something we've had too much of in the England side.

'They said when I took over as England manager that it would be interesting to see which of the three Southampton youngsters - Shearer, Matthew Le Tissier or Rod Wallace - would come through first. Alan always looked like being the one.'

For a long time, Wright seemed to be anything but - his omission from the European Championship squad after outscoring everyone in the First Division last season was one of Taylor's quirkiest decisions.

Whatever the reasons behind it (officially, the Arsenal man was too similar to Lineker), he is back in favour now, and destined to play on Wednesday. Taylor said: 'I have given Ian five England caps, and found him a bubbly, lively character who hasn't been a problem.

'I wanted him to play in the friendly against Spain last month, but he wasn't 100 per cent fit, and I felt I had to select others who were. Believe me, I rate him highly. If he plays like he can for England, he can be a match-winner.'

Hurst nods in enthusiastic agreement. 'He is the right one to play with Shearer. His scoring record over the last couple of years has been second to none. He is exceptionally quick, scores goals and is capable of creating something out of nothing by doing unusual, unpredictable things.

'Shearer and Wright are England's best bet. They've got to be given an extended run to show that they can do the job.'

Amen to that. Play them in harness on Wednesday, with Gazza calling the shots in midfield, and for once the opposition will be doing all the worrying.

(Photograph omitted)

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