Football: Venables sticks to England's winning formula

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The Independent Online
Terry Venables yesterday enjoyed the rare pleasure of being able to name a virtually unchanged and unchallenged squad.

After the impressive 3-1 win over Switzerland last month the England coach made just one change for next Tuesday's friendly against Portugal at Wembley. Even that was enforced. Gary Pallister, who has a back injury, drops out while Nick Barmby, who missed the last match with an ankle problem, returns.

It is only the second time in his 15-match reign, and the first for 14 months, that Venables has not named a new face in his squad. With the European Championship finals now less than seven months away that will be bad news for the likes of Robbie Fowler and Mark Draper, but even worse for Paul Ince and Paul Merson who are running out of time for a recall.

"You've always got to cater for someone coming through like a stream train," said Venables, who may take his team to South Africa for two warm- up games in late May. "But the nearer you get [to the finals] the more possession becomes nine-tenths of the law."

In Pallister's absence Gareth Southgate is likely to at least make his first appearance on the substitutes' bench. After Tony Adams and Steve Howey, who are expected to resume a partnership that kept a clean sheet against Colombia in September, he is the only central defender in the party. It is Southgate's third appearance in the squad but the Aston Villa defender has yet to figure in a final 16.

The only other uncapped player in the squad is Trevor Sinclair but Queen's Park Rangers' poor recent form, Steve Stone's excellent match against the Swiss and the return of Barmby, all reduce his chances of a first start.

Graeme Le Saux and David Platt, who were included in the squad but not judged fit enough to play last month, will both await the final XI with anxiety. Le Saux is Venables' first choice left-back but he will be acutely aware that his Moscow punch-up with David Batty has tarnished his reputation. Platt, meanwhile, has struggled to recapture his form with Arsenal, despite scoring on Saturday.

Les Ferdinand, who took his season's domestic goal tally to 20 on Sunday, is playing so well he must get an international chance soon. But with Alan Shearer, who scored a hat-trick on Saturday, and Teddy Sheringham linking impressively against Switzerland he may be denied yet again.

There is, however, a full weekend football programme to be negotiated first. The chances of the entire squad coming through unscathed is slim. It is with this mind that Venables has named a 23-man party, his largest yet. The group includes Ian Walker, called up as cover last month, and Jamie Redknapp, who has not played since injuring a hamstring after five minutes against Switzerland.

The weekend matches, and the Tuesday kick-off (to avoid the following night's European Championships play-off between the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands) means Venables will have just two days with his team. This makes a testing fixture even more difficult. Portugal are a much better side than the last time they met England, in Mexico, during the 1986 World Cup. Portugal won 1-0 but, unlike England, failed to qualify for the quarter-finals.

The Irish will testify to the strength of an impressive youth system whose graduates form the basis of a side who will be among the dark horses for next summer.

n A recurrence of an ankle injury has forced David Kelly, the Sunderland striker, to withdraw from the Republic of Ireland squad to play the Netherlands at Anfield.

England squad

(for friendly v Portugal at Wembley on 12 December)

Seaman (Arsenal), Flowers (Blackburn), Walker (Tottenham), G Neville (Manchester United), Jones (Liverpool), Adams (Arsenal), Howey (Newcastle), Pearce (Nottingham Forest), Le Saux (Blackburn), Southgate (Aston Villa), Sinclair (QPR), Stone (Nottingham F), Redknapp (Liverpool), Platt (Arsenal), Gascoigne (Rangers), Lee (Newcastle), McManaman (Liverpool), Wise (Chelsea), Ferdinand (Newcastle), Beardsley (Newcastle), Barmby (Middlesbrough), Sheringham (Tottenham), Shearer (Blackburn).

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