Football: Taylor turns to Ripley for final reckoning

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STUART RIPLEY, the Blackburn Rovers winger, will definitely make his international debut in Bologna on Wednesday night, when England must score at least seven goals against San Marino to give themselves a chance of qualifying for the World Cup finals.

Graham Taylor, the England manager, confirmed his intention to include Ripley in his starting line-up during a training session at Bisham Abbey. Ripley, who will celebrates his 26th birthday next Saturday, will play wide in a 4-2-4 formation, with Lee Sharpe on the opposite flank, hoping to supply the crosses for the two strikers - presumably Alan Shearer, Ripley's club-mate, if he is fit, and either Les Ferdinand or Ian Wright. Ferdinand, with two goals in five England appearances, will probably get the nod ahead of Wright.

According to Taylor, the dream is still alive. 'Everybody has a dream,' he said yesterday. 'Mine is qualification. It's a very distant dream now. But it's not over.' On Wednesday, Taylor will know his destiny. Not only must England win by seven goals in the Renato Dall'Ara stadium, but they also need a demoralised Polish team to beat Dutchmen who have the scent of glory in their nostrils.

Sixteen of England's squad of 22 players trained yesterday at the National Sports Centre. Among the missing were Shearer, under treatment for a back injury; Trevor Steven, with a cold; Gary Pallister, still feeling a touch of the tendinitis that kept him out of Manchester United's European Cup match in Istanbul; and Tony Adams, at home with flu but expected to report before the team departs for Italy on Monday.

'There isn't going to be a lot of space in behind the San Marino defence,' Taylor observed. 'What's important is that we keep a good tempo and deliver the ball into the penalty box. We need someone who can deliver a constant supply of quality crossing. We're not going to ask Ripley to do anything that he hasn't been doing on a regular basis for Blackburn.'

Ripley, he said, had been under consideration for some time. 'But ever since we came back from the European championships, with the exception of the Norway match, I've been picking a formation to accommodate our most gifted player, Paul Gascoigne. That makes it difficult to balance your team out. But Ripley has been in my mind. Remember that an international manager can only announce a squad of 22, but he'll have 30 or 35 players in his mind all the time.'

San Marino drew 0-0 at home to Turkey, but have lost their other three home matches to Norway (0-2), Poland (0-3) and Holland (0-7). In nine matches at home and away, they have scored one goal and conceded 39. Would England consider a more radical reshaping in an attempt to match the tally of the Dutch, who went to Bologna with an extra forward? 'No, we're looking to play 4-2- 4, which is what the players understand.'

ENGLAND (probable): Seaman; Parker, Adams, Pallister, Pearce; Platt, Ince; Sharpe, Shearer, Ferdinand or Wright, Ripley.