International Football: Venables turns the vegetables into venerables: Enthusiastic England are continuing along the road to renewed prosperity. Joe Lovejoy reports

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The Independent Online
FROM the vegetable patch to the seed bed of perfection. Not content with putting the pride back into English football, Terry Venables is looking to refine a winning formula in a constant quest for collective excellence.

Trouncing Greece 5-0 on Tuesday had fuelled the feeling of renaissance, but Venables acknowledged that it was no more than a small, if jaunty step on the long march to renewed prosperity.

The players had responded with enthusiasm and intelligence to his revivalist ministration, and updated tactics had seen off Denmark, as well as the Greeks, but these were early days, and the new strategy had been jotted in pencil, rather than set in stone.

Experimentation would be the order of the day, probably for the whole of next season, with a view to maximising England's chances of winning the European Championship they are hosting in two years' time.

The old maxim about the folly of changing a winning team is irrelevant to a series of trial-and-error friendlies, and new faces, and a new formation, are under consideration for Norway's visit to Wembley on Sunday.

The man is a fount of new ideas, a breath of fresh air after the stale, stereotypical Taylor years. If only is a futile phrase offering nothing but vexation but speculating on what might have been, had Venables been given the job even a year earlier, is an unavoidable temptation.

Naturally enough, the man himself will not be drawn into what is a pointless exercise, but the chastened Greeks are in an increasing majority in believing England should be accompanying them to the United States next month.

The fact that they will not be going is 'hugely disappointing', Venables said, 'but that's the way it is. There's no use fretting over something that we can't do anything about.'

Beating Norway on Sunday would only exacerbate the frustration but it was more productive to regard the match as a chance to build on a stirring start.

Tuesday's result, coming on the back of the victory over the Danes, will have won England renewed respect abroad, Venables felt. 'People everywhere will look at it and say: bloody hell, that was a good win.'

The personnel and the pattern had both been right, to the bemusement and ultimate demoralisation of a team who had been good enough to win in Russia to top their World Cup group.

The new, flexible 4-3-2-1 shape looked even better second time out, with the Greeks so confused that they often had three defenders marking Alan Shearer, with Peter Beardsley and David Platt free to cause havoc in their withdrawn roles, as secondary strikers.

Venables took justifiable satisfaction in the success of a system that was a far cry from good old 4-4-2. 'I thought Beardsley, Platt and Shearer were terrific,' he said. Ever the perfectionist, he wanted the midfield men - in this case Paul Merson and Darren Anderton - to get forward and support Shearer 'a little bit quicker'.

In general terms, however, he was happy, and there was a good case for leaving well alone. 'I might leave it the same on Sunday, I don't know,' he said. 'At some stage I've got to look at something else. It's no good me settling on one system until I've had a look at other things which might work even better.

'I've either got to do that this time, or wait until next season. At least we've got plenty of time before the European Championship.'

For the moment, repairing damage to morale remained the priority, and to that end he was tempted to stand by a system in which the players had confidence. 'You look at it and think: 'How would we change if we were playing away?', but there's not much point in that because we're not going to be playing away in the championship. That's our target, and so, in the main, we want to be playing our friendlies here.'

Not that he was looking for easy, bum-of-the-month opponents in the run-up to '96. The cancellation of the match away to Germany last month had been a major irritant.

'We need games in which we might have real problems, to see if we can cope with them. It's no good finding we can't two months before the European Championship. We need to find out early.'

Norway would be tougher, and there was a score to settle after that catastrophic defeat in Oslo last summer. Coach and players are ready. 'Yes, we feel we've got something to prove,' Venables said. 'The Norwegians will be stubborn in defence, very organised. They play to keep you out and look to score at a set-piece, or on the break.

'I've watched them and they don't change. They say: 'This is our system and we got to the World Cup with it.' We've got to try to hammer away at them without overcommitting ourselves.

'It won't be easy, but with the right formation I don't think there's any country we should be frightened of. I've always maintained that we do have the players, and that we'd have a chance against anybody if we got our attitude and organisation right.'

The Indian summer debutants, Steve Bould and Kevin Richardson, had 'done well', but Paul Ince and Gary Pallister should both be back in search of vengeance, and there could be a first start for Matthew Le Tissier, to the exclusion of Merson.

The smart money is on another win. Too late the cry.

Goals: Anderton (24) 1-0; Beardsley (37) 2-0; Platt pen (45) 3-0; Platt (55) 4-0; Shearer (65) 5-0.

ENGLAND (4-3-2-1): Flowers (Blackburn); Jones (Liverpool), Bould (Arsenal), Adams (Arsenal), Le Saux (Blackburn); Anderton (Tottenham), Richardson (Aston Villa), Merson (Arsenal); Platt (Sampdoria), Beardsley (Newcastle); Shearer (Blackburn). Substitutes: Le Tissier (Southampton) for Anderton (63); Wright (Arsenal) for Beardsley (70); Pearce (Nottingham Forest) for Jones (82).

GREECE (4-1-3-1-1): Karkamanis (Aris Salonika); Apostolakis (Panathinaikos), Kalitzakis (Panathinaikos), Kolitsidakis (Apollon), Karayannis (AEK); Tsalouhidis (Olympiakos); Hantzidis (Olympiakos), Nioplias (Panathinaikos), Kofidis (Aris Salonika); Tsiantakis (Olympiakos); Mahlas (OFI Crete). Substitutes: Karataidis (Olympiakos) for Kolitsidakis (h/t); Mitropoulos (AEK) for Hantzidis (h/t); Saravakos (Panathinaikos) for Mahlas (h/t); Kostis (Aris Salonika) for Kofidis (70).

Referee: J McCluskey (Scotland).

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