Neville brothers pairing up in the battle for squad places

Click to follow
Of all the places in which to play a pair of brothers England had to choose China - a country which, for more than 20 years, has tried to convince its population to settle for one child per family, preferably a girl.

That oddity will not be lost on many of the 65,000 crowd at today's friendly international but, back home in Bury, it will not concern Neville Neville, proud father of Gary and Phil.

Gary is a relative veteran of nine caps but Phil, two years the younger at 19, will be making his debut. He is on the left of a defence which includes Tony Adams, who is hoping to prove his fitness for Euro 96. In front of them, in a team which shows nine changes from the one which defeated Hungary 3-0 on Saturday, Jamie Redknapp and Nick Barmby will be playing for their squad places. Alan Shearer is also back but the three most important players to Venables' side, David Seaman, Paul Ince and Teddy Sheringham, are rested.

The Nevilles are the sixth set of brothers to play together for England and only the second this century after Jack and Bobby Charlton, who were last in harness in 1970. They are both quick, intelligent and composed. Venables said of Phil: "He's an outstanding talent. His career has followed a very similar pattern to his brother's. He is young but has already played in some tough games. Both brothers have the same level-headed temperament and should be around for England for years to come."

"I've just phoned my dad and he's even happier than I am," said Phil, who is Venables' 26th new cap. "I think it means even more to him when we play together than to us.

"We had a practice game this morning. I was in the team wearing the orange bibs and I sensed it was the team that was going to play because Gazza was in it. Then Terry called me to one side and told me I was playing. It was an unforgettable moment.

"The reason I was not on the bench on Saturday was that Terry had asked me to go into the stand and watch how the system was played. 'Watch it very closely' he had said."

"Managers do not look at us as a pair but as individuals," Gary added. "I won't be giving him any advice - you have to learn for yourself. It is the only way to get better."

Adams will be playing his first senior competitive match since a knee operation in January. "He looks fine," said Venables, who has restored him to the captaincy. With Mark Wright out of the European Championships, Adams, if he is able to adjust to the new defensive formation, should regain his once-unquestioned place in the team.

Whether Gareth Southgate actually plays ahead of Adams, or alongside, will depend on the Chinese. "We don't know how they'll play. I have told them you'll have to adapt when you get out there," Venables said. This is the sort of decision-making he has been encouraging his players to make and it will be interesting to see how England cope.

Publicly the Chinese say they are just pleased to be on the same pitch; privately they are expecting to win. England's fortunate 2-1 Wembley win over Japan in the summer is fresh in the mind. Venables said he would be "delighted" with a repeat of the scoreline and, given the conditions, he probably means it.

Although the temperature drops in the evening it will still be warm, the pitch is playable but not good, the crowd will be passionate and the opposition enthusiastic. Yet England should still win. "We need an early goal," noted Paul Gascoigne, who steered his way through a tortuous bilingual press conference with perfect diplomacy.

Gascoigne was one of the few players not to go to the Great Wall yesterday. Instead he played cards at the team hotel. "Everyone has different ways of relaxing," he said. Given that the trip involved a fair bit of foot- slogging in near-90 degree heat his decision may have been right, however strange it seems.

Gascoigne will be resuming a midfield partnership with Redknapp which looked very good against Colombia. Redknapp was then injured and struggled to regain his form. Barmby also impressed in that September game, linking well with Shearer, only to lose form as Middlesbrough tied up. Both, said Venables, looked sharp in training.

According to Sir Len Appleyard, the British Ambassador to China, the Chinese have "developed a real football atmosphere". Venables, who saw a game here a fortnight ago, said they make a lot of noise with bamboo whistles which sound like high-pitched horns. To counter them there will be just over 300 English supporters, some of them resident here. There could have been 270 more but, bizarrely, Michael Heseltine's British trade mission left for Shanghai yesterday. Clearly the link between football and corporate entertaining is one Western trend yet to be included in China's economic reforms.

ENGLAND (v China, Peking, today, 12.45pm BST): Flowers (Blackburn); G Neville (Man Utd), Adams (Arsenal), P Neville (Man Utd); Southgate (Aston Villa), Anderton (Tottenham), Gascoigne (Rangers), Redknapp (Liverpool), McManaman (Liverpool); Barmby (Middlesbrough), Shearer (Blackburn). Substitutes to be announced.

Euro 96 Countdown, page 30

Comments