Football: Speed, skill, vision, wit - the lot: What makes him so special? Jasper Rees offers an analysis of Paul Gascoigne's England comeback performance against Norway

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The Independent Online
WHEREVER Paul Gascoigne is to be found, hyperbole is never far behind. So, in the language reserved for references to Gazza, Wednesday night was little short of a resurrection, in which a Messiah returned in triumph to the scene of his self-crucifixion. Or in more earth-bound parlance, Paul Gascoigne completed 90 minutes of competitive football for the first time since Spurs lost 2-0 at Anfield on 11 May last year. Seven days later came the fateful Cup final.

In the many months that have passed since Gary Charles's progress along the edge of the Tottenham penalty area at Wembley was crudely interrupted, his tackler has not been out of the headlines, but few of those headlines alluded to what turned him into a headliner in the first place.

There has been ample time to forget exactly what it is that makes Paul Gascoigne so rare in, and so important to, English football. Ninety minutes against Norway provided a compelling reminder, or rather 83 minutes: he did not touch the ball until he threw it in with seven minutes already on the clock. Here are seven examples of how the national side was enriched by his roving return, on a night when he did not even have a shot at goal.

1 Quick thinking: no one disputes that English players are quick, but thinking comes less naturally. Gascoigne does both when a long ball from Tony Adams aimed at Ian Wright is headed away by Roger Nilsen. It bounces into space and Gascoigne, though not yet back to full speed, is quick enough over three yards to get there before Kare Ingebrigtsen. The ball is at chest height but he has enough balance and control to reach out and up and clip the ball over to David Platt advancing on the left. Alan Shearer heads the cross straight at Erik Thorstvedt.

2 The average English midfielder plays as if the ball is his enemy: he gets rid of it without giving himself time to pick the best destination. Gascoigne can keep possession long enough for his team-mates to give him options. He receives the ball in midfield. Erik Mykland lunges, but by effortlessly dragging the ball back from right foot to left and knocking it into space Gascoigne is free to look around. Kjetil Rekdal comes into his vision but before a tackle can be made he is left for dead by the same swerving drag-back. Gascoigne advances crossfield, accelerating past Ingebrigtsen, who chases back but cannot tackle before his opponent whips a pass upfield to Wright.

3 No one with English blood in his veins kills the ball dead quite like Gascoigne. A through ball from Des Walker is travelling fast at hip height. It dips on to Gascoigne's foot and drops to the floor like a lead balloon. Gascoigne delivers the ball to Platt, whose pass finds the Mexican referee.

4 The Norwegians chose not to stick a man on him, but they were wary enough to allow other English players time and space. David Batty throws in on the left. Gascoigne curves towards the throw, controls the ball with his stomach, holds off Ingebrigtsen, twists round and steals through the gap between him and Rekdal and advances across the edge of the box. When Mykland approaches, Gascoigne has accounted for Norway's three central midfield and Paul Ince, to whom he passes, is free to shoot (just high and wide).

5 Gascoigne seems to have a sixth sense for where other players, both team-mates and opponents, are in the area around him. Stuart Pearce wins a throw on the left, level with the edge of the box. He throws to Gascoigne, who senses a defender moving in behind him. He could pass back for Pearce to cross but instead turns on a sixpence and nutmegs Henny Berg despite having scarcely enough time to check where the Norwegian substitute's legs actually are. He advances into the box, tries to take on Rune Bratseth, the one Norwegian not caught like a rabbit in the headlights by this shining display. He is quick enough to force Gascoigne to rethink. With the area bunged up with players, that rethink produces a sliding left-footed lay-off back to Batty, whose shot is hurried and wide.

6 Gascoigne is doubly unpredictable: Norway do not know where he will turn up next any more than they know what he will do with the ball. The replacement of a winger with a second midfield grafter gives him the freedom to roam absolutely anywhere, and cause difficulties at very short notice. He has possession tight on the right touchline. Mykland slides in but the tackle is nonchalantly evaded with a flick. An early, short, diagonal cross, delivered with a velocity and accuracy beyond the dreams of most right-sided English players, finds Shearer, whose back-header could have fallen more kindly for a tightly marked Platt. Nothing has come of it, but the Norwegian defence would have felt a brief sense of panic not normally induced by crosses from the deep.

7 That feeling is intensified when Gascoigne prepares to take a free- kick on the right wing. An earlier corner was floated to Shearer, whose header was cleared off the line by Mykland, but this time the cross whips over at speed. The free-kick is high enough to clear the Norwegian wall and fast enough to give their defence no chance to challenge Shearer, whose glancing header is marginally too fine to be on target.

(Photograph omitted)

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