Roman redemption is beckoning for Gascoigne

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He never produced his best in the Eternal City but the Romans loved him nevertheless. Now Paul Gascoigne, having left the Italian capital unfulfilled, has the chance to return and triumph.

But only if he, and his England team-mates, remain injury-free. ``Give me my experienced players," said Glenn Hoddle in the aftermath of England's 4-0 win over Moldova at Wembley on Wednesday. He is too devotional to make a direct appeal to fate but fortune will clearly have a part to play in Rome on 11 October. Already Alan Shearer has been ruled out through injury and Italy's Roberto Di Matteo through suspension. Teddy Sheringham and Tony Adams are on the way back but have still to prove their fitness.

It could hinge, however, on Gascoigne, who rolled back the years with a virtuoso display on Wednesday. At times it is hard to remember that he is only 30, so long has he filled the back and front pages.

"I didn't expect him to run games in the summer [Le Tournoi] but I saw signs in the summer of him coming back to his best," Hoddle said. "He showed against Moldova that he still has that ability, it is now a case of staying injury-free. Prevention is the key, he has to realise that at 30 he cannot go out drinking and has to have the right diet.

"He is maturing. Alan Smith [England's physiotherapist] has been with the squad much longer than me and he says he has never seen Paul as quiet as this week. He's been really focussed.''

Most people have heard this before, more than once, but Hoddle appears to believe that Gascoigne the person is finally controlling Gazza the personality. If this is true, he deserves credit for persevering with him.

"That may be so," he replied, but it applies to all the staff and to him. He has to do it himself. At times I have had to come down hard on him for things he has done in training or matches and he has always responded. He is misunderstood, at heart he is a smashing lad.

"He knew what the headlines would be if he did not perform tonight: "Gazza's blown his last chance''; "Gazza can't play in Rome". He responded magnificently. You can say it was only Moldova but if it was that easy they would all have been doing the things he did.''

Not that it was his last chance. Hoddle, drawing on his own bitter experience, has consistently told Gascoigne he is prepared to wait for his form to return as long as his behaviour meets the England coach's standards.

"I know how he feels. I was always being told it was my last chance and I needed the manager [Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson] to take the pressure off me. He never did. I've learned from that how to treat Paul.''

Not that Hoddle's praise was unstinting. "He was magnificent with the ball but he will need to do more defensively against better teams, David Batty did well for him in this game.''

In the absence of Shearer, and the possible loss of Sheringham, Hoddle will also have been lifted by the sharpness in front of goal of Ian Wright and Paul Scholes. The latter was one of five Manchester United youngsters involved in the game, which gives the Champions' League match with Juventus on 1 October added spice.

"It will be more good experience for them," Hoddle said. "Last year they may have lost both games but I thought United improved all the time. They could easily have won with their second half performance at Old Trafford.''

And so to Rome. England, barring further injury, are likely to play the following XI: Seaman; G Neville, Adams, Campbell; Beckham, Gascoigne, Batty, Ince, Le Saux; Sheringham or Scholes, Wright. It is a good mixture of youth and experience, of skill and steel with four regular goalscorers. Hoddle's England have a perfect away record, winning in Moldova, Georgia, Poland and France. A full house in the Stadio Olimpico is a daunting prospect but, as Hoddle added, "80,000 fans can be a bonus but if you don't get anything early on it can work against you.''