Football: Venables ready to end the phoney war: Wright shoots into Wembley reckoning as injuries force England coach to delay first team selection

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The Independent Online
IT MAY be a bright new era, but some things never change, and Terry Venables has been forced to delay selection of the England team to play Denmark at Wembley tonight while he ponders Paul Gascoigne's fitness and Ian Wright's ability to translate potential into achievement at international level.

To compound the feeling of deja vu Les Ferdinand, who seems to get a fit of the vapours at the very mention of the word England, has dropped out yet again, citing a foot injury that was not serious enough to prevent him from playing for Queen's Park Rangers at the weekend.

It was Ferdinand's withdrawal that had Venables sending for Wright, who demonstrated his return to fitness with a hat-trick for Arsenal on Saturday. Impressive stuff, but he of the bulldog spirit, tends to become a poodle in international company, and had just one goal in 15 appearances before he filled his boots against little San Marino.

Ferdinand out, Gascoigne doubtful, a question mark about Wright, and Paul Parker hampered by a niggling injury. Graham Taylor could be forgiven a knowing smile. Welcome to international football.

To Venables' credit, he accepted the slings and arrows with smiling equanimity. He is savouring his first match in charge and wants players and public to enjoy it, too. Enjoyment is the buzz word among the players, who point to Venables' engaging blend of tactical nous and good humour as the most noticeable difference between the new regime and the old.

Alan Shearer expressed it as well as anyone. 'Terry is very confident,' he said. 'He knows what he wants and he has spelled it out strongly and clearly. He has brought new ideas and coaching methods, which is good, but it's also nice that he wants to make sure that the players enjoy it.'

After the hype and ballyhoo of the phoney war, the man himself is keen to get down to the job proper. 'I'm looking forward to it,' he said. 'I'm not nervous, anxious or even particularly confident. I'm just keen to get the first one out of the way. I'll have something to chew over when it's gone.'

The old stadium will be full to witness his baptism and he accepted that his appointment had stirred great expectations. 'We were down - the whole country was down - when we failed to qualify for the World Cup. What we've got now is some optimism, which is as much as you can hope for at the moment. Perhaps the level of optimism is a bit high, but that's got to be better than indifference.'

Naturally, he wanted to start with a win - Sir Alf Ramsey is the only England manager to have lost his first match - but he felt the public would be satisfied with 'some sign of improvement'.

When it came to team selection, he was not prepared to show his hand, preferring to wait for the results of fitness checks on Gascoigne and Parker this morning rather than speculate on their possible replacements.

When Ferdinand dropped out yesterday he resisted the obvious temptation to draft in young guns like Andy Cole and Chris Sutton, and plumped for the enigmatic Wright. Why?

'I don't think we should flood the arena with young players all at once. I only left Wright out because he wasn't fit when I picked the squad. Now that he is, he'll be involved in the action at some stage, if he doesn't start.'

Wright's role depends on Gascoigne. If, as expected, lachrymose of Lazio makes light of his bruised ribs and plays, the Arsenal striker is destined for a place on the bench, with Shearer and Peter Beardsley preferred in attack. If Gascoigne is ruled out, Wright would probably get the nod to partner Shearer, with Beardsley withdrawn into the so-called 'hole', just behind the front two.

That Beardsley is back, at 33, there is no doubt. Overlooked for three years, he feared he would be marooned on 49 caps for ever, but Kevin Keegan bet him pounds 50 that Venables would quickly give him his half-century and Tyneside's favourite son will have to pay.

The circumstances in which he left the international stage still rankle and he was anxious to put the record straight. Taylor had recalled him for the B game against Russia in Moscow two years ago, and had played him on the right wing in the second half, after which he said he felt he no longer had anything to prove at B level and that he did not want to play for the second team again.

The manager had chosen to interpret this as international retirement and had sent a thank-you note and a bunch of flowers. All very nice, Beardsley thought, 'but I'd rather be playing for my country'.

He had always hoped for another chance and 17 goals in an Indian summer season with Newcastle had earned him what he calls 'a new start'. His 50th cap would make this 'the happiest day of my life, football-wise.'

Venables is delighted to oblige. Beardsley looked 'thrilled to be involved', he said. 'He is one of those players who is a joy to work with. Someone told me last night that they'd pay to watch him train, let alone play. He's got tremendous passing ability and this great awareness of others around him. He's good individually but very much a team player, which is almost a contradiction, but not in his case.'

Elsewhere, Tottenham's Darren Anderton is in line for his first cap on the right of an otherwise familiar four-man midfield and Stuart Pearce's experience may win him the vote over Graeme Le Saux at left-back. For now. Blackburn's rampaging rover is coming up fast on the rails, and clearly has a big future, which was not always the case.

Denmark, who won the last European Championship by dint of tenacious marking and sharp finishing, still possess dangerous forwards in the Laudrup brothers, Brian and Michael, and Kim Vilfort, but failed to qualify for the World Cup finals, where they came third in Group Three, behind Spain and the Republic of Ireland.

Their tight, counter-attacking style could cause problems if the frustration of an expected crowd makes England impatient, but the eagerness of the players to impress their new coach should get Venables off to a winning start.

----------------------------------------------------------------- PROBABLE LINE-UPS ----------------------------------------------------------------- ENGLAND Seaman (Arsenal) Parker Adams Pallister Pearce Man Utd Arsenal Man Utd Nottm F Ince Man Utd Anderton Platt Tottenham Sampdoria Gascoigne Lazio Beardsley Shearer Newcastle United Blackburn Rovers ++++ B Laudrup Christensen Milan Olympiakos Piraeus Dethlefsen M Laudrup Vilfort Jensen Larsen Odense Barcelona Brondby Arsenal W Mannh'm Kjeldbjerg Rieper Chelsea Brondby Olsen Seraing Schmeichel Manchester United DENMARK -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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