Gazza leaves them gasping

Euro 96: England's enigma gives critics the perfect reply with an exquisite goal as spirit of Scots is drained; England 2 Scotland 0
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The Independent Online
When Paul Gascoigne does what he did here yesterday, he reminds the world why people make such a fuss of him, why the heartache is worth it and why Terry Venables ignores all the criticism. His was a goal of both beauty and significance that propelled an improving England towards the quarter-finals of the European Championship.

It seemed we might see a repeat of the Switzerland experience when Tony Adams conceded a late penalty after Alan Shearer had given England the lead. But this time the estimable David Seaman saved Gary McAllister's kick and England quickly secured the second goal that settled them and the match. Now England only need a draw from Tuesday's match here against Holland to progress and a narrow defeat may even be enough.

What a goal it was, one that will live long in the memory. Teddy Sheringham prodded the ball out to Darren Anderton wide on the left and he clipped it forward. Just another move, you thought, until it became plain that the man racing into the inside left channel was Gascoigne.

Swiftly seizing on it, he sized up Colin Hendry, who was advancing from his right. No problem. A clip with the left foot took the ball over Scotland's central defender. As it dropped, Gascoigne met it with his right foot 10 yards out and Andy Goram could only flail as the volley bulged the net low to his right. The stadium, save for Scots' corner, stood in admiration and awe.

It was a little harsh on the Scots, plucky but ordinary. That description also applied to England in a surprisingly subdued first half that saw the players, and notably Gazza, eschewing blood and thunder and conserving their energy in the 85F heat.

England found a change of pace in the second half, however, withdrawing Stuart Pearce, moving Gareth Southgate to left-back and injecting the youthful fetching and carrying of Jamie Redknapp in midfield. It was decisive. Gascoigne was freer to advance and probe the forward areas where he is more useful and dangerous. How sad, then, to see the willing Redknapp limp out of Wembley on crutches as another England injury victim.

Certainly England needed rejuvenation after a first half in which they looked laboured and uninspired. The Scots' midfield trio of Stuart McCall, McAllister and John Collins, blended as well as a fine whisky, and though Teddy Sheringham's header from Southgate's cross flashed across Goram's goal, Scotland were making promising inroads into England's defence. McAllister troubled Seaman with a free-kick and Colin Calderwood was robbed when about to strike 12 yards out.

A new verve was apparent in England at the start of the second half. Sheringham almost got on to the end of a long ball before Goram collected and McManaman was close with a fierce shot after cutting in from the right. The quickened pace and new determination deserved a goal. It duly materialised.

Gascoigne found Gary Neville wide on the right with a neat ball and the full-back curled in an excellent cross that left Goram uncertain whether or not to leave his goal-line. There at the far post, just ahead of Sheringham, Shearer stole in to nod the ball firmly into the net for his second goal of the tournament.

It might soon have been two. Not long after Anderton had sent a shot over the bar, Gascoigne - now producing the sort of penetrative passing and crossing only he among English players can - sent in a cross from the left that found Sheringham alone in space again, only for Goram to save the diving header.

As a result of the scare, Scotland stirred themselves anew. McAllister made a good run down the left that ended with Seaman picking up Neville's back-pass. From the scooped free-kick at the byline, Seaman scrambled Hendry's header over the bar.

They came closer still moments later. Collins escaped down the left and his cross to the far post was met firmly by Gordon Durie, sporting a headband after an early head injury. His header looked a goal all the way - until Seaman somehow clawed the ball to safety.

Now Craig Brown threw on the old warhorse Ally McCoistfor John Spencer to try and get the goal that Scotland have found so elusive latterly. It seemed they had done so after 77 minutes when Adams challenged Durie clumsily for Stuart McCall's low cross. Unfairly, too, said the Italian referee Pierluigi Pairetto.

Seaman stood tall enough for long enough, however, and as he dived to his right he managed to divert McAllister's driven kickover the bar with his elbow. Two minutes later Gascoigne scored to ensure that Seaman's work was properly rewarded and it was all but over.

It was also Gascoigne's reward after two weeks of excessive personal vilification and a few days of justified professional criticism following the match against the Swiss. His was not a performance that consistently bolstered England, but it was one that contained enough gems to illustrate why he remains so valuable to an otherwise worthy but limited England.

It was vindication, too, for Terry Venables, persevering with his favourite son, naming an unchanged starting team, then changing tack at half-time. If they draw against the Dutch they will top the group and can stay at Wembley for the quarter-final.

All is not lost for Scotland. Should England beat Holland and the Scots overcome Switzerland the same night, they can still qualify on goal difference. First they need to score a goal, however. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that they - or anyone else in this tournament - will score one quite like Paul Gascoigne's.

Stan Hey, page 30