Football: Gascoigne spurs Lazio comeback

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The Independent Online
Lazio. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Milan. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

HE LASTED the 90 minutes, which is an achievement in itself, but it was what Paul Gascoigne did in that time that was of real significance yesterday. He gave a vibrant performance in the hub of Lazio's midfield, scored, and, though short of wind at the end of a heroic effort, could still contribute to a late equaliser that reined in the champions-in-waiting of Milan.

After a one-game suspension following his sending-off two weeks ago against Genoa, Gazza, in the highest company of all, was eager to impress and heavily involved, and while his fitness may not quite be to Graham Taylor's satisfaction the management in Rome were delighted. 'This was Gascoigne's best-ever performance for us,' Lazio's coach, Dino Zoff, said. 'He played brilliantly and gave the spectators five or six pieces of excellent football.'

Taylor, who criticised Gascoigne's fitness and performance against San Marino last month will announce his squad for the World Cup qualifier in Turkey later this week. After this display, Gascoigne appears a certainty both for squad and team.

We can safely call yesterday's Milan merely the world's second best club side because to a large extent it was only a second string; six of the players who have sent them on to a higher plane being indisposed through injury. No Van Basten, Gullit, Rijkaard, Donadoni or Savicevic and, following a 45- minute contribution that included a wondrous goal, no Papin.

No matter. With 37 minutes gone Milan were 2-0 ahead and, back in the same Olympic Stadium where their errors had granted Roma a shock 2-0 cup success in midweek, seemingly preaching infallible football once more.

That defeat was their first in a competitive game since 14 April 1992, 330 days and 42 matches ago. There is still their record sequence of unbeaten Serie A games to maintain, however, and maintain it they did. It is now 58 although Lazio came close to ending it.

After 10 minutes Jean-Pierre Papin struck stunningly with the outside of his right foot. A smothered Lazio lost their way, passes went astray and so confused was Aron Winter that he turned another Zvonimir Boban pass into an own-goal with his head.

Two down, it was Gascoigne who came to Lazio's rescue. He had already seen one of his spinning free- kicks go close and, a minute after Winter's big freeze, Roberto Bacci went down the line and from the cross Gazza side-footed home. There was more. In one compelling moment at the start of the second half Gascoigne surged through no less than five defenders. He could not find the finish to match but the message had got home.

Three minutes from time, with Lazio and their English maestro all but spent, came the equaliser. Gazza walked rather than ran a pass square to Roberto Cravero who in turn supplied Giovanni Stroppa and, bereft of markers again, Cristiano Bergodi was this time able to head in.

Lazio: Orsi; Bacci, Favalli, Sclosa (Stroppa, 74), Bergodi, Cravero, Fuser, Doll, Winter, Gascoigne, Signori.

Milan: Rossi; Gambaro, Maldini, Albertini, Costacurta, Baresi, Lentini, Eranio, Papin (Simone h/t, De Napoli, 66), Boban, Massaro.

Referee: S Boggi (Salerno).

Italian round-up, page 30