Football / World Cup: Bergkamp 'fearful' of Shearer return: Dutch striker believes his Blackburn counterpart is pre-eminent in Taylor's forward planning for crucial tie

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The Independent Online
IT TAKES one to know one, as they say, and Dennis Bergkamp, the esteemed Dutch striker, last night cursed Alan Shearer's return to the England squad for the crucial World Cup qualifier in Rotterdam next Wednesday.

The man from Milan regards Shearer as the biggest threat to the Netherlands' chances of gaining the win they believe they need to pip England for a place in the finals.

Bergkamp insists the reinstatement of the Blackburn bustler at the focal point of the England attack will prove to be of greater significance than the absence of Paul Gascoigne, who is suspended.

A keen observer of the English game, he says: 'Gascoigne is an important player, but I have seen a lot of your football - enough to know that there are others capable of filling his place.'

The same was not true in the case of Shearer, he felt. Others, such as Ian Wright, had been unable to score with any degree of regularity at international level. Blackburn's resurgent Rover was a kindred spirit, and certainly good enough to do so. 'He is the player who could make all the difference next week,' Bergkamp said.

Shearer demonstrated his fitness to Graham Taylor's satisfaction when he scored twice at Swindon on Saturday, and his reappearance in the squad yesterday, after an 11- month absence, was no more than a formality.

He was always odds-on to play next week, condition permitting, and the book will probably be closed with the news that Wright and Les Ferdinand are both nursing injuries serious enough to make them 'doubtful'.

Mention of their infirmity brought a not-again sigh from Taylor, who has enjoyed the luxury of nominating an unchanged team just once in his 36-match reign.

This time, apart from Gascoigne's suspension, he is deprived by injury of Earl Barrett and David Batty. Their places go to Shearer, Paul Parker and Trevor Steven, with a fourth, unforced alteration seeing Tim Flowers summoned as extra goalkeeping cover, at David Bardsley's expense.

Against the Poles, everything had been right, on and off the pitch, Taylor said. He had wanted to keep changes to a minimum, but was left bemoaning the fact that 'consistency in selection is not easy to achieve'.

He had lost Gascoigne, who would have played, and Barrett and Batty, who would not, and doubts surround the fitness of Wright, who injured a knee on Saturday, Ferdinand (hamstring), Stuart Pearce (thigh strain) and Tony Adams (ankle).

Pearce and Ferdinand both hope to play in their clubs' respective Coca-Cola Cup ties tomorrow, but Wright and Adams will miss Arsenal's match at home to Huddersfield tonight. Wright is Taylor's biggest worry.

'I've had a long conversation with George Graham about Ian today,' he said. 'We will see how he is when the squad report on Friday. This is a very important game for English football, so we ought to allow players who have just played six times in 18 days as long as possible to recover.'

Taylor had no plans to replace either Wright or Ferdinand, and chose not to include a striker among his three reserves on stand- by. The suggestion was that he would reinforce the senior squad, if necessary, from the Under-21s, who play in Utrecht on Tuesday night, with Andy Cole of Newcastle United an obvious option.

The Premiership's leading scorer in all competitions remains sixth or seventh in line, with Shearer, Ferdinand, Wright and Teddy Sheringham of the conventional centre-forwards ahead of him, plus probably Paul Merson and David Platt, but his foot is planted firmly on the international ladder.

The manager said: 'There is a lot of talk about Andy Cole at the moment - understandably because he is scoring goals and doing very well. There is no doubt in my mind that he is one for the future, but this particular game is the big one.' And, by unspoken implication, a time for experience.

Taylor said as much in explaining his preference for Parker over Bardsley as Barrett's replacement. Manchester United's right-back had won the vote because he was 'an experienced international'. Ditto Steven, who has been in and out more often than the fiddler's arm, and is back on the strength of his recent performance at Raith, which must be a first.

Neither is likely to play. Taylor says he has had his team in the back of his mind for some time, and is waiting on availability before 'bringing it to the front'.

The strong probability is that there will be two changes, with Shearer ousting Wright and Andy Sinton filling the Gascoigne vacancy, which would entail David Platt moving from the right to the centre of midfield.

Good enough? Bergkamp fears it might be. 'It is a very difficult game for us,' he says. 'We have to win, and we know how hard England's defenders are to play against - tough and impressive always. It will be a battle, and even if we win we will still need a draw in Poland, which is not easy. I think you have the edge.'

The match, to be played in the Feyenoord Stadium, is already a sell-out. The Dutch received 150,000 applications for the 48,000 tickets, some 5,000 of which have been allocated to England.

ENGLAND SQUAD: Woods (Sheff Wed), Seaman (Arsenal), Flowers (Southampton); Jones (Liverpool), Parker (Man Utd), Walker (Sheff Wed), Adams (Arsenal), Pallister (Man Utd), Pearce (Nottm Forest), Dorigo (Leeds Utd), Palmer (Sheff Wed), Steven (Rangers), Platt (Sampdoria), Ince (Man Utd), Sinton (Sheff Wed), Sharpe (Man Utd), Shearer (Blackburn), Wright (Arsenal), Ferdinand (QPR), Sheringham (Tottenham), Clough (Liverpool), Merson (Arsenal). Standby: Coton (Man City), Winterburn (Arsenal), Bardsley (QPR).

(Photograph omitted)

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