Football: Venables keeping tactics secret in search for revenge: Norway return to Wembley with England looking for third successive win under new regime as former captain is given free transfer

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NINETEEN months ago, Norway put the skids under Graham Taylor by coming here and fluking a draw, last summer they propelled him down the slippery slope with a crushing home win, and next month they go to the World Cup at England's expense. To call it a grudge match may be over the top, but there are certainly old scores to settle when the team dubbed 'the new enemy' return to Wembley tomorrow for a fixture friendly in name only.

Like a mafia capo, Terry Venables insists it is strictly business, 'nothing personal', but there is no doubt that he would share the satisfaction of his public if he could further enhance his burgeoning personal prestige by succeeding where Taylor failed.

Friendly or not, there is kudos, as well as an unbeaten start, at stake, and the new coach was not prepared to forewarn the opponents he rates as his most difficult yet by giving anything anyway. Personnel, and tactics, were both under wraps yesterday, although there were hints at changes to both.

David Platt trained with a knee heavily strapped, but Venables insisted that the near-mummification was no more than precautionary, and that everyone would be available for selection.

Having put the Greeks to the sword to the tune of five goals on Tuesday, there was a strong case for leaving well alone, but he was still 'thinking about changes', the likeliest of which would see Paul Ince, whose hernia is said to have eased, return at the hub of the midfield, in place of Kevin Richardson.

Norway are too strong to risk major experimentation, but places could also be found, without obvious detriment, for David Seaman, who is still regarded as the first- choice goalkeeper, and Dennis Wise, to the exclusion of Tim Flowers and Paul Merson.

Venables paid Les Ferdinand special attention at the end of yesterday's session, which suggests that the most fragile of England's strikers may be about to celebrate the new contract he has signed with Queen's Park Rangers by winning his seventh cap. For that to happen, however, either Alan Shearer would have to be dropped, which is unthinkable, or the formation would have to change, offering an improbable hostage to fortune.

In Oslo last June, Taylor sprung a new and strange deployment on his players, specifically to counter the perceived threat from Jostein Flo, a skyscraping forward largely unknown before the game, and who has just sunk back into obscurity with relegated Sheffield United.

Gary Pallister, dragged out wide as Flo's notional marker, was a fish out of water at full-back, and with Lee Sharpe equally uncomfortable in a withdrawn role, England failed to do justice to their own strengths and were deservedly beaten 2-0.

Venables would not be falling into the same trap, he said. There were no special plans to combat Flo. The coach was more interested in maximising his own team's productivity.

The result in Oslo was a sore which had been inflamed by England's failure to qualify for the World Cup, he said. 'I think we should have won out there, but we got well beaten. I watched half the game on video again late last night, and we just didn't play at all.'

In the 1-1 draw which launched the ill-fated qualifying series, England had been 'extremely unlucky' he felt, and the two results together had made Norway the 'new enemy' as far as the public were concerned.

Revenge] 'It's fair to assume that we're looking for that, although there's nothing personal in it in my case. The way I see it, this is my third, and England's last, game of the season, and we'd love to go out on a high, with another win.'

For their part, the Norwegians will be anxious to avoid a demoralising defeat so soon before the World Cup, and can be expected to defend in depth, in pursuit of what would be seen as a creditable draw.

Belt and braces has been the approach in three of their last four matches, in which they were happy enough to be held goalless by Portugal and Costa Rica, and were beaten 2-1 by the United States. The exception, which serves to underline their potential, was the 3-1 win in Wales which left John Toshack with the shortest career in the history of international management.

Egil Olsen, Norway's Anglophile coach, is without his home- based players, who are required for a full domestic programme. Yesterday, though, he was busy adding a little more spice to the occasion with some words of advice for the England manager: 'I have great respect for Terry Venables, but what he is doing is a step in the wrong direction,' Olsen said.

'I know Wimbledon have a bad name in your country, but look at the results they achieve. They are very difficult to play against. Statistics show that direct football is the most effective and England used to be the best exponents of that. Now they do not have the players to compete with the top countries at a possession game. It will take them an awful long time to be better than Italy and the South Americans.' Olsen's squad still has a familiar look about it, the expatriates including no fewer than 10 who ply their trade in England. In the words of Venables's predecessor, it will be a tough test, but he should get that third win. Just.

ENGLAND (probable: 4-3-2-1): Seaman (Arsenal); Jones (Liverpool), Adams (Arsenal), Bould (Arsenal), Le Saux (Blackburn Rovers); Anderton (Tottenham), Ince (Manchester Utd), Wise (Chelsea); Platt (Sampdoria), Beardsley (Newcastle Utd); Shearer (Blackburn Rovers).

The governing body of world football, Fifa, yesterday decided to increase the number of World Cup finalists in 1998 to 32 from this summer's 24.

Dundee United's task, page 51

(Photograph omitted)

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