Football / World Cup: Taylor rejects the possibility of failure: England venture east in search of World Cup profit and point to their hosts' modest record while Forest await bids for their playmaker

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The Independent Online
HISTORY favours the Poles here, but Graham Taylor takes his text from the form guide rather than the record book, and is refusing to entertain the prospect of failure in the double- header he has always expected to make or break England's attempt to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.

Four points from the games against Poland tomorrow and in Norway next Wednesday would lift Taylor and his team to the top of Group Two, installing them as favourites for one of the two places on offer in the United States next summer. Three would be enough to improve their chances and, although he will not admit as much, the manager would probably settle for that.

Anything less would be damaging, and defeatist talk is well up there with footballing fatigue when it comes to managerial irritants.

England have not won in Poland since 1966, and deepest Silesia is not their favourite venue, but Taylor has come to share Henry Ford's opinion of history, and prefers to point to the Poles' modest record of late. Last year they played 11 games and scored only 13 goals - four of them coming in one sudden purple patch at Austria's expense.

The poverty of Polish finishing has since been underlined in the two home games they have played in the qualifying series, against Turkey and San Marino. England filled their boots in the corresponding fixtures, improving their goal-difference by 10. Poland, in contrast, scraped home 1-0 each time.

England should win, and probably need to if Taylor is not to endure an uncomfortable homecoming - tail between legs and foot lodged firmly in mouth. Eager to please with a good quote or ingenuous exposition, he does have an unfortunate habit of offering up hostages to fortune.

It took a long time for him to live down that invitation to the public to put their feet up, get the beers in and enjoy England's performance at the European Championship. A lesson learned the hard way? It would seem not. Now he is assuring us that it is 'impossible' for England to lose the two demanding games they are about to play in the space of five days. 'It's just not going to happen,' he said. 'We are out here to do the business.'

Taylor has always regarded these two matches as the key to England's fate. He would have preferred not to have had them so close together, but this back-to-back commitment was the price he had to pay in return for starting with three home ties.

He said: 'When the draw was made, I thought the group would take shape after these two games. Four points won't be the end of it, but it would go a long way towards achieving our goal.'

Before flying out yesterday, England completed their home-based preparations with a night at the theatre to see Taylor's favourite musical, Buddy, a second time.

The manager came away even less inclined to tolerate talk of tiredness among his players. 'We all think we're entertainers,' he said, 'but some of these boys and girls have been doing the same three-hour show six nights a week for two-and-a-half years, and they still put so much into it that you'd think they were performing for the first time. That's how to put on a show.'

A voice from the back was unconvinced. 'That's all very well, but no one kicked Buddy Holly up the arse, did they?' Les Ferdinand would have appreciated that. The Queen's Park Rangers striker is still moving as if the hobnails had been applied to his posterior, and the smart zlotys are on Teddy Sheringham taking over in attack.

Most of the hard currency they prefer in these parts is now to be found in the well-lined pockets of David Platt, who cleaned up in a big way on the European Cup in his capacity as squad bookmaker. With the exception of John Barnes, everyone - Taylor included - bet on Milan, and Platt picked up a monkey, as they say in the trade.

A score would do tomorrow, of course.

Marseille celebrations, page 36

(Photograph omitted)

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