Football / World Cup: England set to swear by Gascoigne: Taylor ready to recall Adams

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The Independent Online
OFFICIALLY, the will-he-won't-he saga continues, but the Norwegians are about to find Paul Gascoigne in offensive mood on the field, as well as off it. Gazza plays for England at Wembley tomorrow. From the start.

The prospect of the best player in the country making an emotional return to the ground where his career was painfully interrupted, 17 months ago, should draw something approaching a full house. So much for the good news.

A more muted welcome awaits the reappearance of Tony Adams, Arsenal's stopper centre-half, who is expected to win his 20th cap, 18 months after a maladroit 19th, against the Republic of Ireland, seemed to have signalled his demise at this level.

Anxious not to add prescience to the Norwegians' various advantages, the England manager, Graham Taylor, is delaying the announcement of the team charged with the onerous task of getting England's World Cup campaign off to a winning start.

Careless talk, though, is as commonplace as transfer tittle-tattle among footballers - ask the expletive-depleted Gazza - and the grapevine has it that The Odd Couple, Gascoigne and Adams, are both back.

Informed sources point to four changes from the team beaten 1-0 by Spain in Santander last month, with Adams, Gascoigne, David Batty and Ian Wright replacing Mark Wright, Andy Sinton, David White and Nigel Clough.

Paul Ince (calf) and John Salako (ankle) were troubled by minor ailments yesterday, but both will be available.

Taylor accepts that Gascoigne is not 'completely match fit', but says Lazio's pounds 5.5m playmaker is blessed with gifts denied his peers. He would not last the 90 minutes, but might still tip the balance England's way.

The man himself said he would not 'cheat' the other players by pretending that he was 100 per cent. 'I'm not fit enough to last the night out, but I want to take part.'

Such is the lack of craft and imagination among the alternatives that Taylor is prepared to make allowances, and take an uncharacteristic risk.

Norway's five-man midfield will be strong in an area where England have just been overrun by Spain, and the need for a more compact, resilient link between defence and attack will see wingers sacrificed in favour of four men whose instincts are to occupy the inside channels.

Batty, the Leeds rottweiler, will be invited to prowl an all-consuming beat in front of the back four. Gascoigne, when fresh, and then Platt, will act as an auxiliary forward, in 'the hole' behind the two strikers.

Adams, tried and found wanting in the past, represents a contentious choice, but Taylor feels he needs a tall centre-half to combat Goran Sorloth, who is a handful in the air, and the Arsenal captain, as ever, was first to raise his.

England's best chance of containing Sorloth, Norway's lone striker, lies not in Adams' dubious efficiency, but in cutting off his lines of supply, which means keeping a firm check on Jahn Jakobsen, a tricky left winger who forages from deep in away games.

The threat Jakobsen poses, in support of Sorloth, and the desire to start the qualifying series from a firm, familiar base has persuaded Taylor not to borrow from defence to reinforce his midfield.

Lessons have been learned from the European Championship finals, judging by his reply to the suggestion that an orthodox back four was unnecessary against opponents deploying just the one forward.

The manager who was forever fiddling, and got badly burned in Sweden, said: 'Going into a new competition you've got to be careful about suddenly adjusting this or that. The important thing is that we are confident, and comfortable, in our own way of playing.'

Norway, with maximum points from their first three qualifiers, arrive with a settled, winning side. England, in contrast, are without a win in their last four games, and in Spain looked like 11 bewildered individuals rather than a cohesive team. Was it asking too much to expect a flying start to Group Two?

Not at all, Taylor said. 'It is an important game for us all, and I'm sure a good win, and a good performance, will give everyone a lift. That's what we're looking for. It is from winning that a team starts to gel.'

The first 11 to be poured into the mould will probably be: Woods; Dixon, Adams, Walker, Pearce (captain), Batty, Platt, Ince, Gascoigne, Wright, Shearer.

(Photograph omitted)

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