Football: Sheringham and Shearer to reunite

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The Independent Online
It is 10 months since Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham last played together, 10 months in which England have made an unconvincing start in their qualifying campaign for the 1998 World Cup.

Tonight, injury and selection brainstorm permitting, the boys of summer will be reunited at Wembley. They will be charged with the task of restoring England's direction on the path to France. The contrasting and complementing strikers, who took England within a penalty kick of the European Championship final in June, will be expected to provide the focus to a victory over the tricky but beatable Georgians.

Sheringham and Shearer have played together 13 times so far and England averaged a goal every 48 minutes while they are in harness. Statistics (below) suggest that the Les Ferdinand/Sheringham combination is even more dangerous with a 38 minute strike rate but that is only over three games. The consistency of Shearer and Sheringham, and the quality of opposition they have defeated, underline their right to be regarded as England's best pairing since Peter Beardsley and Gary Lineker hunted together.

Before the expected full house (which has more to do with selling tickets tied in a package to the Italy game than Georgia's attractiveness) starts to belt out "Three Lions" in anticipation, a word of caution. There are two reasons why Shearer and Sheringham might not renew their link. One is an infected toe on Sheringham's foot which has brought out a blister, the other is Glenn Hoddle's penchant for unexpected selections.

However, with Matt Le Tissier absent Hoddle is likely to follow the party line if Teddy's toe allows. "They have a nice balance," he said. "Alan is very single-minded, you know he will score goals. Teddy thinks about the game within the game, as it develops, not just beforehand. They had a great summer."

Shearer, while diplomatic as ever, indicated that he will be pleased to be reunited with Sheringham. "People have always said Teddy is not very quick but he has two yards in his head," the captain said. "He is very clever, very skilful and we link up very well. If we can produce the partnership of last summer it can only be good for England.

"On the other hand," he added, "me and Les Ferdinand are the top scorers in the Premier League so there is another side to the argument."

Not for Sheringham there is not, he wants to play with Shearer. "He has an aura surrounding him like Jurgen Klinsmann. I remember with Jurgen came to Tottenham I was so excited about playing with him. Just walking on to the pitch you could see the opposition thinking 'that's Jurgen Klinsmann there.' Alan's beginning to have that effect, too."

The bigger question is who Hoddle picks behind them. Paul Ince and David Batty, so impressive together during the win in Georgia, are likely to play, while Graeme Le Saux is certain to. With Steve McManaman out of form, Paul Gascoigne injured, and Rob Lee impressive on the right against Mexico, this could be a chance to play David Beckham inside. However, Hoddle said at the weekend he did not think Beckham was ready to play there.

With Stuart Pearce's calf injury failing to respond to treatment, Hoddle has a choice between Phil Neville and Sol Campbell for the left centre- back berth. Neville is left footed but Campbell is more experienced and, unlike Gareth Southgate, another option, appears to have Hoddle's favour.

Hoddle has been working hard on the defence this week drumming into them the difference between defending in the Premiership and at international level. "We need to get better," he said. "We won't get it right in a day but we need to by the time we get to France.

Scoring is easier in England, players like Ian Rush and Gary Lineker found that when they went abroad.

Apart from the loss of Pearce and Walker, Hoddle's preparations have been lengthy and uninterrupted. The last time he had such fortune England played and won well in Georgia. A repeat performance ought to be within their compass although they will have to force the pace more than in Tbilisi.

ENGLAND (v Georgia, Wembley, tonight, probable): Seaman; G Neville, Adams, Campbell; Beckham, Ince, Batty, Le Saux; McManaman; Sheringham, Shearer.

Group Two

P W D L F A Pts

Italy 5 4 1 0 8 1 13

England 4 3 0 1 7 2 9

Poland 3 1 1 1 3 3 4

Georgia 2 0 0 2 0 3 0

Moldova 4 0 0 4 2 11 0

Remaining fixtures: Today: England v Georgia; Italy v Poland. 31 May: Poland v England. 7 June: Georgia v Moldova. 14 June: Poland v Georgia. 10 Sept: England v Moldova; Georgia v Italy. 24 Sept: Moldova v Georgia. 7 Oct: Moldova v Poland. 11 Oct: Italy v England; Georgia v Poland.