Football: Gullit shows off his rude health

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The Independent Online
TALK of retirement was not exclusively a Nottinghamshire preserve yesterday. Ruud Gullit, the Dutchman whose consummate attacking expertise threatens England's hopes of victory on Wednesday night, was pausing briefly to evaluate his future in an orange shirt.

'My goal is to qualify for America,' the 30-year-old former European Footballer of the Year said after the Dutch had undergone a rigorous, occasionally breathtaking, training session at Wembley. 'Then I will decide whether to play on.' On yesterday's evidence, Gullit appears in the rudest of health, his sinuous runs down the right and aerial prowess in the box an alarming foretaste of what may await Graham Taylor's defence.

Gullit knows the Dutch, who have already lost once in Group Two, cannot afford to lose. 'If we suffer a second defeat I don't think there will be any way back for us,' he said.

Gullit added that he is not the player he was before surgery; over in the England camp Paul Gascoigne was dismissing the dreadlocked one's intimation that such a condition applied to him. 'People have their judgements and I've got mine but I keep that personal,' the Lazio playmaker said. 'We'll have to wait and see what happens.'

His knee was fine, Gascoigne said. 'It's the first time I've ever had a reaction to a knock on the knee. Finding out there was nothing wrong is a big boost. It shows the knee is strong.'

Scotland's injury problems should ensure Kevin Gallacher, the in-form Blackburn striker, has a run at Portugal's backline in Lisbon tomorrow. Against the Portuguese at Ibrox in October, Gallacher pulled up lame early in the game and he is determined to make the most of his next Group One opportunity.

'That (Ibrox) was my chance to stake a claim to a regular place and it blew up in my face,' the 26-year-old said. 'Now I want to blot out the memory of that game by helping Scotland pull off the victory we badly need.'

John Aldridge, the Tranmere striker, hopes to represent the Republic of Ireland against Denmark in tomorrow's Group Three tie in Dublin despite having only 30 minutes of first-team action in the past two months. Aldridge, who was troubled by a stomach-muscle injury, needs to impress Jack Charlton, the Republic's manager, in training today to be sure of his place.

Charlton called Brian Laudrup the Danes' danger man. 'I watched him on television playing for Fiorentina on Sunday and hoped somebody would kick him,' Charlton said. 'They did, but he kept getting up.'

In Ostrava, Wales may field one of their youngest central defensive pairings ever. Portsmouth's Kit Symons, 22, and Oxford's Andy Melville, 24, have at least been spared the prospect of facing one of Europe's most dynamic forwards: knee trouble has deprived the RCS of Tomas Skuhravy for the crucial Group Four match.

Strasbourg's Michael Hughes has joined up with the Northern Ireland party in Seville after briefly losing his luggage. The Irish need a win to keep their Group Three hopes alive.

ENGLAND U-21 (v the Netherlands U-21s; Fratton Park, tonight): Gerrard (Oldham); Jones (Liverpool), Small (Villa), Jackson (Everton), Hall (Southampton), Ehiogu (Villa), Flitcroft (Manchester City), Sheron (Manchester City), Sutton (Norwich), Cox (Villa), Anderton (Tottenham).

Hunter Davies, on Graham Taylor, page 17