Gascoigne left the field on a stretcher, that so-often damaged right leg worryingly strapped, in the second minute of injury time after a rash tackle from behind by the exotically named but crudely lumbering Linda Buthelezi. Most things Gascoigne brings on himself, some things just happen to him.
It looked bad, but was initially diagnosed as a bruised calf and Gascoigne will undergo a day and a half of treatment in Hertfordshire before rejoining the England squad at Bisham Abbey on Monday. More worrying for the England coach, Glenn Hoddle, is an ankle injury to Jamie Redknapp, which sent him to hospital for X-rays.
Hoddle had been pleased with the slimline Gascoigne's performance, which began brightly, sagged in the middle and picked up again late on - a summary, too, of England's performance. "Paul looked stronger as the game went on and I thought he was excellent until that tackle," Hoddle said. "If he looked tired we were going to bring him off but he didn't. If he was ever going to perform in Poland, he needed 90 minutes."
Hoddle saw it as an invaluable exercise for England despite the injuries, with such as Gascoigne, Ian Wright, Phillip Neville and the debutant substitute, Paul Scholes, all taking the opportunity to impress. In reality, it was far from convincing material against a skilful, enthusiastic but punchless South Africa and it took a dubious goal by Wright to ease England's embarrassment.
"Predictable," was the verdict on England of the South African coach, Clive Barker, who felt that his team might reverse the result on a hot day in Soweto. "Their build-up was laboured."
"I totally disagree," retorted Hoddle. "And I can show him the video of the first half."
This was virtually an England B side, showing eight changes from the one that faced Georgia last month. Such luminaries as David Seaman and Alan Shearer were rested and, with Paul Ince and Tony Adams also missing from the squad, England were without the spine of their first team.
Still, England had enough attacking talent to disturb an often open South African defence. Teddy Sheringham especially, England's most creative player, revelled in the space and created several early openings. One had Andre Arendse saving bravely at Wright's feet and another similar move ended with the goalkeeper clutching a shot straight at him.
Then Sheringham's deep cross from the left eluded Doctor Khumalo and Neville brought the ball down neatly on his chest. A ball inside found Lee in space and, at the second stab, his shot from 10 yards arrowed through the defence and into the net.
Neville drove wide from Redknapp's long through ball and then headed over from Graeme Le Saux's cross. Against the run of play, however, South Africa conjured up an equaliser just before half-time. Khumalo's ball into the England box found the tricky John Moshoeu, who, having been forced away from goal by Nigel Martyn, sent back an overhead kick that left the former Leeds United striker, Phil Masinga, with the simple task of heading home.
After the break, the game slowed and it seemed that Gascoigne's splendid 25-yard curling free-kick, which was fingertipped away by Arendse, would be the best they could manage. Then Wright struck. Gascoigne clipped a free-kick into the South African penalty area, Scholes flicked it on and Wright, with the suspicion of handball, controlled it before swivelling and shooting home. That should have been it, as the game meandered quietly to its conclusion. Buthelezi had other ideas. "It was not malice, just over-enthusiasm," Barker insisted. Buthelezi's middle name, apparently, is Innocence.
All bulletins will concern Gascoigne this week, all eyes will be on Chorzow next Saturday. Hoddle's are still on qualifying as top of the group. "If we can win in Poland, I still feel we can go on and win the group,"he says. "If we don't that goes out of the window unless the Italians slip up in Georgia. This game is more important than the one against Italy in Rome in October."
On Saturday it will be an England different in personnel - with the spine of the team returning - and it will also need to be an England different in attitude and approach from last night.
England: Martyn (Leeds Utd); P Neville (Manchester Utd), Keown (Arsenal), Southgate (Aston Villa), Pearce (Nottingham Forest), Le Saux (Blackburn Rovers), Redknapp (Liverpool), Lee (Newcastle Utd), Gascoigne (Rangers), Wright (Arsenal), Sheringham (Tottenham Hotspur). Substitutes: Batty (Newcastle Utd) for Redknapp, 57; Scholes (Manchester Utd) for Sheringham, 64; Beckham (Manchester Utd) for Le Saux, 67; Butt (Manchester Utd) for Lee, 80; Campbell (Tottenham Hotspur) for Gascoigne, 90.
South Africa: Arendse (Cape Town Spurs); Motaung (Tenerife), Fish (Lazio), Tovey (Kaizer Chiefs), Radebe (Leeds Utd), Khumalo (Columbus Crew), Tinkler (Cagliari), Moeti (Orlando Pirates), Moshoeu (Kocaelispor), Masinga (Salernitana), Augustine (Linzer ASK). Substitutes: Sikhosana (Orlando Pirates) for Augustine, 55; Mkhalele (Orlando PIrates) for Khumalo, 77; Bartlett (Colorado Rapids) for Masinga, 88; Buthelezi (Mamelodi Sundowns) for Tinkler, 88.
Referee: A Frisk (Sweden).
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