DIXON PALLISTER WALKER PEARCE
(Arsenal) (Man Utd) (Sheff Wed) (Nottm For)
(Man Utd) (Sampdoria)
RIPLEY FERDINAND WRIGHT SINTON
(Blackburn) (QPR) (Arsenal) (Sheff Wed)
HIS captain may regard it as Mission Impossible, but Graham Taylor clings steadfastly to the belief that miracles do happen, and is urging England to put themselves in the record books, rather than the dustbin of history, by thrashing little San Marino tonight.
Not even the seven-goal victory that is their target will get them to the World Cup if the Netherlands avoid defeat in Poland, but Taylor shook off the creeping melancholia that has overtaken him of late to sound a rousing rallying call.
He may be out of a job by the end of the week, but the man wants to go down fighting, and he raised his game yesterday - even managing a little humour at his own expense - and called on his players to do the same.
'The players, and myself, must show how much we care,' he said. 'We've got to play with a passion that's there for everybody to see. We've got to use our heads, but we've got to have our hearts on our sleeve. We've got to show we're giving everything to get those seven goals.'
The players should be thinking about securing a place in history. 'In 20 years time, people could be saying: 'Bloody hell, they had to get seven that night and Poland had to beat Holland, and it actually happened. Fantastic. What was the team now? God knows, he changed it so often.'
Many a true word. There are no fewer than seven changes to the side beaten 2-0 in Rotterdam last month, the most notable of which sees Lee Dixon return in place of Paul Parker, to make it five right-backs in the last eight games, and Andy Sinton preferred to Lee Sharpe on the left flank.
Stuart Ripley's introduction on the right wing has had a good airing these past few days, but Blackburn's busy provider may not be the only debutant. Taylor changed his mind (a phrase it pays to have stored in the word processor) yesterday, and decided to replace the injured Alan Shearer after all. Enter Andy Cole, promoted from the Under-21s.
Cole brings goals from Newcastle, 13 of them in his last eight games, but the hope is that they will not be needed. If the Premiership's most prolific finisher has to come off the substitutes' bench, it will be plan B, and A will not have worked.
The original version has Ripley and Sinton delivering a plentiful supply of crosses for Les Ferdinand and Ian Wright to fill their boots. Taylor says: 'We have got to keep the ball moving and keep a good tempo to our game. Mentally, we must be upbeat about it. Getting seven goals is a realistic target, but we know it's not going to be easy.'
San Marino's inadequacy - they have scored once in nine qualifying ties while conceding 39 - and lack of ambition is such that England's full-backs will act as auxiliary attackers. The central defenders, too, should have plenty of scope to move up, but Taylor is anxious not to clog up the penalty area and deny the specialists the space they need to do their work.
The manager is also mindful of the need to have defenders in place to fasten on to, and return, San Marino's clearances. 'Picking up those balls is important when it comes to sustaining attacks.'
With Italy versus Portugal live on television, the audience in the Renato Dall'Aria Stadium is likely to be the smallest England have ever played before, but if the atmosphere is sterile, the players insist they will be fully motivated.
Wright, for one, is in characteristically bullish mood. 'We're not downhearted,' said he of the Churchillian spirit. 'We've been having a laugh, and there's been a lot of fun. I think we can score the goals we need, no problem, and I also think Poland can beat Holland.'
Taylor will have loved that. 'You've got to be a believer,' he said. 'It's not over yet.'
Had not Stuart Pearce made a monkey of the believers with the forecast of failure which spawned yesterday's 'no chance' and 'no hope' headlines? Ouch. Taylor squirmed, but did his best. 'Stuart Pearce is an honest fellow,' he said, 'but Stuart Pearce talking and Stuart Pearce playing is often very different. I can't think of anyone who will play with more passion and belief.'
There are no plans to monitor events in Poznan, or to relay the Poland-Netherlands score to the players during the game. 'That may not help,' the manager admitted. 'It may come through that Holland are 3-0 up, and I think it's as well not knowing, actually. We've just got to concentrate on doing our own job.'
For all the tub-thumping, the prognosis is not good. When the forwards practised yesterday against the massed defence they can expect tonight, they failed to score once. There is no guarantee that the magnificent seven will be forthcoming, and even if they are the Dutch will surely get the draw that is all they need.
History? It looks like the pan rather than the pantheon.
SAN MARINO (probable): Benedettini (Juvenes); Guerra (FC San Marino), Valentini (Rimini), Canti (Juvenes), Manzaroli (Soglianese), Gennari (Juvenes), Zanotti (FC San Marino), Bonini (unattached), Della Valle (Macerata), Bacciocchi (FC San Marino), Francini (Santarcangiolese).
Graham Taylor said a Daily Mirror offer of pounds 10,000 a man to Poland to beat the Netherlands could backfire on England, even though the incentive was rejected. 'It can have a bad effect if you feel you have to pay somebody to do that,' he said. A Dutch company has offered San Marino pounds 35,600 to beat England.