FOOTBALL: Venables must cope without Gascoigne

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The Independent Online
Terry Venables is facing a selection dilemma following Paul Gascoigne's withdrawal from the England squad for next Wednesday's friendly in Norway.

Gascoigne pulled out of the squad yesterday after straining a thigh muscle in Rangers' 2-1 win over Motherwell on Tuesday, leaving the England coach short of an experienced replacement.

Newcastle's Robert Lee, who was substituted for Gascoigne after 75 minutes against Colombia at Wembley last month, is the obvious choice, but Venables may opt for one of his two uncapped newcomers, Gareth Southgate and Steve Stone.

But with Gascoigne - restored to the starting line-up last month for the first time since March 1994 - missing again, England's midfield resources are extremely stretched.

David Platt and Peter Beardsley are also on the injured list; John Barnes is on compassionate leave; David Batty has been dropped, while Paul Ince is yet to be recalled after pulling out of the Umbro Cup squad for personal reasons.

Venables will delay a decision on calling up a replacement, saying: "Most likely I will wait until tonight's games are out of the way and then clear up any squad rebuilding tomorrow before the rest of the players gather."

Gascoigne's injury is expected to sideline him for at least a fortnight, putting him in doubt for Rangers' Champions' League match against Juventus on 18 October.

Walter Smith, the Rangers manager, who also lost striker Ally McCoist against Motherwell with a groin strain, is hopeful both will be fit to face the Italian champions. "The club doctor has said that both could be out for two weeks and that would obviously take us up to the Juventus match," he said. "But we will wait and see how they respond to treatment."

McCoist, who was named in Scotland's squad for next week's friendly in Sweden, is expected to withdraw from the national side, while Gary McAllister is also doubtful for the trip to Stockholm, after picking up a knock in Leeds' Coca-Cola Cup victory at Notts County on Tuesday.

Roy Keane looks certain to miss the Republic of Ireland's Group Six European Championship qualifier against Latvia in Dublin next Wednesday. The Manchester United midfielder played only 37 minutes of Tuesday's Coca-Cola Cup second leg at York after being relegated to substitute with a suspected recurrence of hernia trouble.

United feared Keane would need a similar operation to the one he underwent during the close season, but specialists confirmed that Keane only had a stomach strain - ruling him out for around two weeks.

"I put Roy on the bench purely as a safeguard, but I had to bring him on. However, he is clearly going to need some time with this," Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said. "I would think he is a doubt for Ireland. We will really have to monitor it, but he's struggling."

Keane will be the second United player to pull out of Jack Charlton's squad if Ferguson's intuition is correct, following the withdrawal of Denis Irwin with knee trouble. "I will speak to Jackie Charlton and go through it with him," Ferguson said. "We are sympathetic to them in this particular instance because it's such an important game for Ireland. We would want to assist them in every way we can."

Keane will probably miss the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on 14 October and the trip to Chelsea the following week, although United are hopeful he will be available for Bryan Robson's return to Old Trafford with Middlesbrough on 28 October.

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