Football / International: Captain Platt sent hunting for a hatful

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The Independent Online
THEIR line-up includes Paul Gascoigne's postman, but the letterbox is as close as he gets. San Marino has the population of Herne Bay, with a football team to match, and England's text at Wembley tonight should be taken from Supermac. Either one.

Harold Macmillan's 'You never had it so good' would seem entirely appropriate for a World Cup tie in which the opposition are no-hopers who have lost each of their first 12 internationals, scoring two goals while conceding 53.

Fitting, too, the words of Malcolm Macdonald, who rattled in an individual best for England with his five against Cyprus in 1975, and now says: 'All records are there to be broken.'

Against San Marino, they do tend to be. Norway put an unprecedented 10 past them without reply, in September, and the poverty of a team bolstered by only two full- time professionals had embarrassing illustration last week when they lost a warm-up game against a scratch side of local amateurs, then needed a late equaliser to draw 2-2 with their own Under-21s. The attendance? Seventeen.

San Marino have conceded at least four goals in every away game since their contentious admission to the international fraternity in 1990 and, below strength or not, anything less than five tonight will be a grievous disappointment to England.

Macdonald had tipped Ian Wright to break his old record, but England were down to their fifth- and sixth-choice strikers yesterday when Wright limped out of contention, joining Alan Shearer, David Hirst and Alan Smith among the walking wounded.

A problem? Graham Taylor made light of it, and rightly so. He could lose half a dozen more and still come up with a pair who would frighten this lot to death. No one has mentioned them, but Mick Quinn and Guy Whittingham would probably have had a field day.

Instead, Taylor has opted to provide the uncapped Les Ferdinand with experienced support in the shape of the ubiquitous David Platt, who wins his 36th cap in two new roles - as orthodox striker and captain.

The aim, after the invigorating

4-0 win against Turkey, was to keep as close as possible to an unchanged team, but the manager is deprived not only of the two strikers, Shearer and Wright, who hit it off so well that November night, but also Stuart Pearce, with groin trouble.

In their absence, Tony Dorigo comes in for Pearce at left-back, which may be no bad thing, Ferdinand takes over from Shearer to lead the line and Platt is advanced from midfield to forage alongside the target man, with John Barnes returning in a withdrawn role, on the left.

Taylor said he had been waiting 'a long time' to have Gascoigne and Barnes together in the same team, but that he was worried about what he called the 'expectancy level'. Worried, that is, that England were expected to match Norway and score 10, and also that too much might be expected from 'our two most gifted players', neither of whom, he said, could be deemed 100 per cent fit.

In the peak of condition or not, it is probably Barnes's last chance to nail down a place. If he flatters to deceive, yet again, against San Marino, even his managerial mentor will find it hard to resist the claims of younger men, like Lee Sharpe.

Barnes, who has been miffed by recent criticisms, and refused to attend yesterday's press conference, will start in what Taylor called the old left-half position, with a brief to cross short and often from the inside-left channel.

Contingency plans are in existence for him to swap places with Platt should either player be found wanting in his new station.

Taylor was anxious that he should not be seen as 'over-cautious' in nominating what looks like a conventional back four against opponents who play with only one forward, and a ball-winner, Carlton Palmer, rather than an extra ball-player in midfield.

The intention, he said, was for both full-backs to push on as auxiliary wingers, and everyone bar the centre-halves was expected to get into, and deliver from, crossing positions.

The onus was on England to score a hatful, but they had deliberately avoided discussing Norway's 10. 'We know people expect us to win, and win well,' Taylor said. 'Talking to the players, I have likened us to a Premier League team going into a cup draw, seeing a non-League side still involved, and saying 'That's who we'd like to get, at home'.'

A reasonable analogy, but the postmen, blacksmiths and clerks of San Marino arrive with none of the clenched-fist aspirations the tiddlers take into the FA Cup. Imagine Wycombe or Yeovil admitting, as the republic's management have, that they would be 'delighted' with a 5-0 defeat.

Easy pickings for England, and their new midfield 'diamond'. The clasp alone would be good enough for six.

Paul Ince went home last night after reports that his baby son was unwell. However, an FA spokesman said that if the child's illness was not serious Ince would return south to play at Wembley.

SAN MARINO: Benedettini (Juvenes); Muccioli (Novafeltria), Gennari (Juvenes), Zanotti (Juvenes), Canti (Juvenes), Guerra (Calcio San Marino), Manzarolo (Calcio San Marino), M Mazza (Cerveteri), P Mazza (Maremmana) or Bacciocchi (Calcio San Marino), Bonini (Bologna), Francini (Santarcangiolese).

Referee: R Philippi (Luxembourg).

----------------------------------------------------------------- THE ENGLAND LINE-UP v SAN MARINO ----------------------------------------------------------------- WOODS Sheffield Wednesday DIXON WALKER ADAMS DORIGO Arsenal Sampdoria Arsenal Leeds United INCE PALMER BARNES Manchester United Sheffield Wednesday Liverpool GASCOIGNE Lazio FERDINAND PLATT QPR Juventus -----------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------------------------------------------------- WORLD CUP GROUP TWO ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Norway 4 3 1 0 15 2 7 England 2 1 1 0 5 1 3 Netherlands 3 1 1 1 6 5 3 Poland 2 1 1 0 3 2 3 Turkey 4 1 0 3 5 9 2 San Marino 3 0 0 3 1 16 0 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

San Marino play for pride,

England Under-21 report, Results,

Reid's three-year contract, page 29

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