Tottenham Hotspur. . .0
HE EXCEEDED everyone's expectations bar his own, but it would be wrong to rush him. The adulation of some 20,000 Lazio admirers, fuelled by his goal-scoring performance, turned Paul Gascoigne's comeback into an orgy of emotion, but amid all the cheers and tears, the harsh reality was that he could last only three-quarters of his first game for 16 months.
By the time Gascoigne was withdrawn, exhausted, mid-way through the second half, he had tucked away a typical goal (script by Hans Christian Andersen) but had shown that he is still some way short of optimum fitness. Sunday's match at home to Genoa would appear to be a week too early for his first start in Serie A; England's World Cup tie against Norway in three weeks' time, the most ambitious of targets.
Dino Zoff, the Lazio coach, said he was 'extremely satisfied' with Gascoigne's progress and that the prospects of him playing some part at the weekend were 'quite promising'. The man himself, though, admitted: 'I need another couple of games before I'll be back to my best.'
Graham Taylor's assistant, Lawrie McMenemy, was in attendance last night, and greatly impressed, but he will counsel against a premature recall for the country's most accomplished footballer. Gascoigne will be in the squad, Taylor has assured him of that, but probably as a non-playing observer.
Enough of the caution. It was a good night for Gazza, and for England. The Man is back, the wounded knee fully repaired. Only stamina is missing, and that will come.
After the leaden-footed incompetence of Sweden, Santander and Stuttgart, it was uplifting to see an English player at one with the ball - its master rather than servant. Gazza is definitely on first-name terms, and wasted no time reminding us what we had been missing these last 494 days. He had already been much in evidence, passing and crossing with reassuring accuracy, when with only 10 minutes gone, he scored. Cue delirious applause and manic celebrations.
Germany's Thomas Doll has refused to surrender his No 8 shirt to the English newcomer, but he was rather more obliging in supplying an inviting cutback from near the byline on the right.
It was a goal served up on a plate and one duly devoured with the appetite of a man who has been on starvation rations these last 16 months. Gascoigne's left-foot finish, from six yards, left Ian Walker utterly helpless. As encouraging as the goal was his mobility, dexterity and ability to withstand a couple of shuddering challenges from Steve Sedgley and David Tuttle.
As if to make the expensive expatriate feel at home, the warm sunshine of the last two days had given way to a pre-match thunder storm, which did nothing for the attendance. More pertinently, the rain rendered the surface treacherous underfoot. Gazza had wanted a proper test of his fitness and he had it in every sense.
Steam was coming off the Tiber, but the welcoming banner strung across the most populous terrace proclaimed: 'We love the fog on the Tine.' Grateful for the sentiment, football's favourite Geordie would forgive the spelling.
Spurs knew their place. They were there very much as a support act. Not that passive resistance was the order of the day and the bit-part players contributed in full to an interesting match. Young Andy Turner should have scored before half-time instead of wasting Neil Ruddock's precise cross with a shot which was inadequate, both in strength and direction.
Reprieved, Lazio made the game safe with a second goal, after 58 minutes, with you-know-who again in the thick of things. It was Gascoigne's short through-pass which invited Doll to advance deep into the penalty area for a shot which Walker did wonderfully well to reach, overhead. It was an excellent save, but it left England's Under-21 goalkeeper on the floor and powerless to intervene when Giovanni Stroppa slid in to score.
Gazza retired, tired but happy, eight minutes later and missed the third goal from Maurizio Neri three minutes from the end. He would have preferred to stay on, but as they are apt to remind him hereabouts, Rome wasn't built in a day.
Lazio: Di Sarno (Orsi, 62); Corino (Solda, 70), Fuser, Sclosa, Luzardi, Cravero (Bergodi, 66), Neri, Doll, Riedle (Madonna, 62), Gascoigne (Bacci, 67), Stroppa. Substitute not used: Gregucci.
Tottenham Hotspur: Walker; Tuttle (Nethercott, h/t), Edinburgh, Hendon, Cundy (Mabbutt, h/t), Ruddock (Fenwick, 32), Sedgley (Watson, h/t), Barmby (Hendry, 77), Anderton, Sheringham (Malhorn, 77), Turner (Minton, h/t). Substitute not used: Dearden.
Referee: P Fabricatore.
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