Football: The new battle of wounded knee: The Gascoigne Comeback / Doctor's report spreads relief in Rome as Lazio's 'champion' limps out of Serie A debut

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Lazio. . .1

Genoa. . .1

THE FAMOUS knee which has undergone four operations, and bears one of sport's worst scars as witness, was again the focus of concern last night after Paul Gascoigne's much-trumpeted debut for Lazio had been curtailed by a kick on the old war wound.

Withdrawn, limping, at half- time, Gascoigne should know today whether his latest injury is just another knock, or something rather more serious. Thankfully, the prognosis is good.

Speciale Gazza Day, as they had billed it here, threatened to become speciale for all the wrong reasons when, with the haven of half-time only seconds away, the man of the moment collapsed clutching the right knee the surgeons have rebuilt twice these last 16 months.

For one horrible, heart-stopping moment it looked like arrivederci Roma. A strong but legitimate tackle from Mario Bortolazzi had jarred the most famous joint in football, and Linford Christie would have struggled to keep up with the medics in their rush to the fallen 'champion', as Lazio have taken to calling him. For what seemed like an eternity, the Eternal City held its breath but, to a collective sigh of relief that might have been heard back home, it was revealed that no obvious damage had been done.

The knee was fine, was the message from the Gascoigne entourage (the man himself is refusing all newspaper interviews after falling out with the Daily Mirror). It had been the club's intention to ease him back, and the coach, Dino Zoff, confirmed that he was always going to bring him off around the half-way point.

Claudio Bartolini, the Lazio doctor, described the injury as 'only an abrasion'. 'He was hit on the knee, near the sciatic nerve,' Bartolini said. 'The effect was like a dead leg. There is no distortion of the knee, and it was a good test for Paul. He must get used to this sort of thing.

'Obviously he was concerned when it happened, but I don't think there is any cause to worry. He didn't ask to come off, but I said it would be best for him not to go back on after half-time.'

A second diagnosis will be made today, when any swelling has subsided, but Zoff hopes his pounds 5.5m man can resume training 'within 24 hours'. The comeback against Tottenham, altercations with coaches and journalists, petty jealousies in the dressing-room and now an injury scare and a curtailed introduction to Serie A. That was the week that was.

Specialie Gazza Day had started with fans in his back garden, eager to meet their hero, and supporters mobbing him at the Olympic Stadium in T-shirts adorned with the legend 'God Save Gazza' and 'Gazza the Giant'.

'Rainman' might have been more appropriate. For the second game in succession the balmy weather broke around kick-off time, and umbrellas shaded the Ray-Bans. Gazza looked pensive - apprehensive even - at the start, but not half as fearful as the poor photographer hit by one of the red flares which greeted the players' appearance on the pitch.

The Lazio legions saluted their new favourite with 'Paul Gascoigne la-la-la-la-la', to the tune of 'Brown Girl in the Ring'. But Thomas Doll is declining to join the Gazza fan club, and the German's first two passes asked too much of the colleague he appears to regard as a rival in the popularity stakes.

Christian Panucci and Giuseppi Favalli were both booked in the first five minutes and Michel Padovano pulled hard on Doll's tresses. Welcome to Italian football.

Such things apart, the first impressions suggest it should hold few terrors for England's most gifted footballer, who was lauded at a volume which mashed the eardrums when a lovely change of pace took him past Fortunato and Claudio Branco, and again when he brought the ball out of defence with a surging, mazy run.

On two occasions cleverly timed bursts into the penalty area might have brought him a goal, but first Karlheinz Riedle and then Favalli failed to pick him out with crosses which were more Reading than Rome.

He had been running freely and intelligently, but was beginning to tire when Bortolazzi's tackle took the timing of his withdrawal out of Zoff's hands. Gascoigne watched the second half from the bench, the leap with which he celebrated Angelo Gregucci's 57th-minute goal suggesting there was not too much wrong with that wounded knee.

Gregucci, the Lazio captain, scored with a towering header, but his team were left with their fourth draw in as many games in Serie A when, with 12 minutes left, Padovano nodded the ball in at close range.

Unfashionable Parma at home next Sunday should produce their first win. Whether Gazza is fit enough to take part, which he needs to be if he is to play for England 10 days later, remains to be seen.

Lazio: Fiori; Luzardi, Favalli, Bacci, Gregucci, Cravero, Fuser, Doll, Riedle (Madonna, 68), Gascoigne (Sclosa, 45), Signori. Substitutes not used: Di Sarno, Corino, Stroppa.

Genoa: Tacconi; Torrente, Branco, Ruotolo, Panucci (Onorati, 65), Signorini, Van't Schip (Collovati, 85), Bortolazzi, Padovano, Iorio, Fortunato. Substitutes not used: Spagnu, Bianchi, Ferroni.

Referee: S Trentalange (Turin).

TORINO missed a chance to go clear at the top of the table in Italy when they conceded two late goals in a 2-2 draw at Pescara. They led through strikes by Enzo Scifo and Carlos Aguilera, but Stefano Borgonovo's double saved the Serie A newcomers and left Torino level on points with Milan whose game with Sampdoria was washed out.

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