Football: Scholes revels in Gascoigne role

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NO ONE, least of all Glenn Hoddle, should be carried away by a victory over the weakest team in the tournament. For most of the first half England struggled to break down a Tunisian side clearly bent on damage limitation; for much of the second their sloppiness gave the massed ranks of Tunisian fans at the Stade Velodrome a faint glimpse of hope. Only when Paul Scholes curled an emphatic shot round El-Ouaer was victory ensured. The rest will not have the Brazilians, the Argentinians or the French quaking in their size tens.

The one sour note was blown in by the Mistral. The sound of sirens had been refreshingly absent from the World Cup until the weekend, but it might become a theme tune for England's France '98 campaign. Toulouse and Lens await their fate.

Thirty-one nations can come to a country, mingle, drink and play football together without hurling chairs and stones down provincial streets. One spoils the party. The violence anglaise erupted on the streets of the old port the previous night and again outside the stadium among the thousands who were watching the match on the big screen.

Inside the stadium, the police presence was surpisingly restrained. A thin red line of young stewards with baseball caps divided the Tunisians from the small pockets of England fans. It was pure good fortune that the more militant element were not on hand, but questions might legitimately be asked, after the accent on security, as to why so many England supporters appeared in the wrong end.

The atmosphere still tumbled over the line between national celebration and jingoism mastered so joyously by the Brazilians and the Scots, to name but two. A chorus of Rule Britannia, in the imposing sea port of Marseilles, stuck in the throat.

On the field, the mindless minority had been reduced by the omission of Paul Gascoigne. If nothing else, victory proved that there is life after Gascoigne. Paul Scholes is small, stocky, ginger-haired and has an instinct for goal Gascoigne even in his prime rarely displayed. He has yet to recover the form which shot him to prominence in Le Tournoi last summer, but a return to France has rekindled his eye for goal.

Playing in the Gascoigne role behind Teddy Sheringham and Alan Shearer, Scholes began to enjoy himself again after a niggly season, much of it spent injured, suspended or anchoring Manchester United's midfield.

Had Scholes developed into the full-blown international his performances in Le Tournoi suggested, the debate about Gascoigne would never have reached the public bar of the Dog and Partridge let alone the floor of the House of Commons. The best England move of the match, patiently begun, explosively finished, should have brought Scholes a goal in the first half. His header was fractionally mistimed, but the run on to Graeme Le Saux's cross was not one for a 20-a-day man. Scholes is from the Alex Ferguson school of Horlicks drinkers.

For all the bombast of Henryk Kasperczak, their Polish coach, the Tunisians showed a poverty of ambition. Japan, Iran and Morocco have shown what can be done by teams with pace who are willing to work hard and organise themselves, but from the first minutes Tunisia slowed the game almost to a halt. By the time they brought on the lively Beya, in the second half, England were on cruise control.

For all the excellence of Sol Campbell and Paul Ince, England still look desperately vulnerable at the back. Whether the ageing Romanians or the eccentric Colombians can summon the legs or the spirit is open to question. Quickness of thought might not be enough when faced with the electric pace of the Argentinians or the Chileans. Michael Owen's 10-minute stretch of the legs was like an electric current through the England frontline. "OK and on to the next game," Hoddle said. England have thrown their first card on to the table. It all depends whether the ones up Hoddle's sleeve are trumps.