Football World Cup: Shearer scents victory

England's captain is confident the goals will come even if he is not pulling the trigger.
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WHEN THIS World Cup was still all speculation and hope Just Fontaine, the World Cup's greatest goalscorer with 13 goals in the 1958 tournament, picked out Ronaldo, Gabriel Batistuta and Marcelo Salas as the likely top scorers. Alan Shearer, who was then one goal from one game, was ignored by the former French striker.

At the time it seemed like a snub, now, with Shearer having experienced two goalless matches, it seems more prescient.

The England captain came into this competition wanting to be top scorer and being one of the favourites to be so. However, he was following the standard line before tonight's match with Argentina that "it doesn't matter who scores as long as someone does".

Very true, Salas may have scored four goals, but he is on the way home. Of Fontaine's other tips, Batistuta, who Shearer will inevitably be compared with today, has four and Ronaldo three. Christian Vieri, with five goals, leads the standings.

"The manager said before the tournament that we would need someone to score five or six goals if we were going to win it, but it could be that we will have three or four scoring three or four each instead," said Shearer. "It doesn't bother me. Friday was my best game so far, both in performance and the service I had. Having Becks [David Beckham] in the side gave us his range of passing and his ability in deadball situations. Whether we keep the same team though I don't know. He may want to bring in Bats [David Batty] and be more defensive. I'm sure it will be difficult for him to change the side after such a good performance but, as he's proved in the past, he's not afraid to make hard decisions.

"It was good being attack-minded on Friday. We went at them and set the tone from the first minute. We need to do that. Some countries, like Brazil, seem to be able to pick it up whenever they want to but that is more difficult for us with our style of play. However, other teams might hurt us more than they did because you inevitably leave gaps if you are attacking. Being attacking doesn't necessarily mean you'll win anything. We had lots of creative players at Newcastle but we never won anything."

Shearer has said that whoever wins tonight's match will go on the win the competition. "They are one of the red hot favourites and if we beat them everyone will believe in us the way we believe in ourselves.

"They have looked good but I don't think they've been tested yet. We're all looking forward to it. People say we may not be as good as other countries technically, but what we do have is lots of heart. When it comes to the really big games, Holland and Germany in Euro 96, Italy in Rome, Colombia on Friday, we pull out the big performance. We can do that again."

Shearer has never played against Argentina but, of course, he remembers Mexico 86. "I was in the Algarve with my family and friends [he was 15]. I felt the same as everyone else. I wasn't too happy.

"I've never scored a goal like that, where I knew it should not be allowed. Would I do it? That's a tough one, but if I scored and the referee didn't disallow it and there's 10 minutes to go I'm hardly going to go up to him and say, `hey ref, it shouldn't be a goal'. It's very difficult, I think he [Maradona] is glad he scored another one. Both he and the ref have to take some blame but you put yourself in his position and you're thinking, what do I do?

"This match is not about revenge. That's a strong word and it's not one we've been using. We've had other things on our minds over the weekend anyway - the wives have been over. It's about getting the right result. If we win, then, afterwards, we can turn round and say `that's for 86'."

Shearer is full of praise for Batistuta. "He's got a phenomenal scoring record [47 goals in 62 internationals, Shearer is 19 goals in 42], people say he's got them against teams like Bolivia, but he's scored goals in Italy too. He's big, strong and powerful. He gets the ball played to him early which helps him."

Tonight, to the background of Rio Ferdinand's juke box - `don't ask me what it is, it's all garbage, some kind of rap I think' - Shearer will look around the dressing-room and assess the mood. "Before Colombia there was a special aura, it felt right. I said to the manager `there's a feelgood factor in here, we'll not get beat tonight'. That's what we've got to be like again."