Football: Gascoigne set for Lazio start

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The Independent Online
LAZIO confidently expect Paul Gascoigne to make his debut in their Serie A match at home to Genoa tomorrow, and Graham Taylor is booked on a flight to Rome to check on his best player's form and fitness.

The England manager had intended to watch Sheffield Wednesday play Tottenham at Hillsborough, but changed his plans immediately on learning yesterday that Gazza was back in earnest.

After his goalscoring comeback in Wednesday's friendly against Spurs, Gascoigne was given no more than a 50-50 chance of keeping his place, but Sergio Cragnotti, the Lazio president, said he wanted him in, and the coach, Dino Zoff, finally bowed to the inevitable.

Zoff said after training yesterday that Gascoigne's chances were now much better than 50-50, and that he was 'likely to play'. Lazio's custom is to delay the announcement of their team until two hours before kick-off, but cards have been marked, and the Italian newspapers and television are saying that the pounds 5.5m man will definitely start the game, at the expense of Aron Winter, the Dutch midfielder. If Gascoigne does play, the match will be shown live on Channel 4.

Gascoigne himself was in combative mood in training, angrily throwing down his bib at one stage, but the red mist soon passed, and he had the look of a man who had been given the nod when he roared off in the big Mercedes which is de rigueur in the Lazio car park.

After watching Norway beat the Netherlands on Wednesday, Taylor had suggested that Gascoigne might not be ready for international football until the New Year, but the news from Rome has been brightening by the day, and the World Cup qualifier at home to the Norwegians on 14 October is no longer out of the question.

Lazio have three games between now and then - against Genoa and Parma in Serie A, and Cesena in the cup - in which Gascoigne will try to demonstrate that he is worth his old place at the hub of the England midfield.

After a distressing year and a half, daft-as-a-brush is smiling again. Forza Gazza, as they say hereabouts.

Gascoigne escapes trap, page 46