Shearer injury gives Fowler Euro 96 hope

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The Independent Online
The threat of injury is as much a part of football as the ball. It strikes without regard for ability or form, but, though it is the scourge of the game, it can bring benefits as well as losses.

These are rarely obvious at the time but as Terry Venables yesterday announced that Alan Shearer, his leading striker, was the latest England player to be struck down, there was a glimmer of hope. Shearer will not be available for England's Wembley friendly with Croatia on Wednesday, the squad for which Venables announced yesterday, but he may be a better player for that in Euro '96. If he plays.

Every time England go into a summer tournament, and fail, the complaint goes up that there is too much football. It is true but, since the chairman are incapable of looking beyond self-interest, it falls to nature to intervene. Many injuries are caused by too much football, either directly, as in wear-and-tear injuries like cartilages, or indirectly, through having inadequate time to recover between games. The silver lining is that injuries force rest that ultimately benefits the player and his team.

Shearer has been suffering from a groin injury for some weeks but, with Blackburn chasing a European place, has continued playing. He has finally admitted defeat and undergoes an operation tomorrow.

"It is disappointing to miss the end of the season but, by doing what I'm doing now, my specialist is confident I will be fit for Euro 96," he said. At which point Venables added "and maybe the tour" in reference to England's trip to China and Hong Kong in late May.

"It's been getting worse for the last three matches," Venables said. "He wants to get 30 goals, which is why he's playing tonight [he has 29]. He will have the op on Thursday and should be back in three to four weeks."

That Shearer is playing tonight suggests the injury is not that serious. He should, therefore, be fit by June and he will also feel rested and refreshed.

That certainly applies to Jason Wilcox who was one of three players enjoying the plus side of injury yesterday. Wilcox, Stan Collymore and Sol Campbell have been given the chance, through others' misfortune, to revive fledging international careers which had themselves been interrupted by injury.

Wilcox is the latest contender to fill the void left by Darren Anderton, another injury victim. Anderton, who made a significant step in his return from injury when he came on for Tottenham on Monday, was injured in the autumn. Wilcox has been missing since last March but may be returning just in time.

His importance to Blackburn was best illustrated by their lack of balance without him. It is his first appearance in a full squad but he played well for the B team last season.

Collymore played twice without distinction during last summer's Umbro Cup then lost his place with both England and Liverpool after suffering an ankle injury in August. He has since struck up an excellent partnership with Robbie Fowler. The temptation to play both next week must be strong but Fowler is the more likely starter.

Campbell was in the squad for the abandoned match in Dublin 14 months ago, before dropping out with injury. He took time to rediscover his form at Tottenham but is now playing well. A versatile player he has made a timely return to the centre-half berth. At present, Tony Adams, Gary Pallister, Steve Howey and Gareth Southgate are all injured.

All hope to be fit for Euro 96 - though Adams broke down in training yesterday - but first Campbell, or Ugo Ehiogu, have the chance to stake a claim. They should certainly get the opportunity to show their mettle. Croatia can choose from Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban, Alen Boksic and Robert Prosinecki. Against such opposition Mark Wright's experience is likely to be used. "I expect them to be one of the favourites in the summer. They were the better side in two games against Italy," Venables said.

There is every indication that Croatia, unlike some of England's recent visitors, will be taking the game seriously. Whether the attendance will reflect this is yet to be seen. Though admission prices are expected to be reviewed for the May fixture against Hungary they remain high for this game. Wembley is thus expected to be half-empty - or, as an FA spokesman might say, "half-full".

ENGLAND SQUAD (v Croatia, Wembley, 24 April): Seaman (Arsenal), Flowers (Blackburn), Walker (Tottenham); G Neville (Man Utd), Jones (Liverpool), Campbell (Tottenham), Wright (Liverpool), Ehiogu (Aston Villa), Pearce (Nottm Forest), P Neville (Man Utd), Lee (Newcastle), Ince (Internazionale), Gascoigne (Rangers), Platt (Arsenal), Wise (Chelsea), Redknapp (Liverpool), Wilcox (Blackburn), Stone (Nottm Forest), Sinclair (QPR), Collymore (Liverpool), Sheringham (Tottenham), Fowler (Liverpool), Barmby (Middlesbrough), Ferdinand (Newcastle), Beardsley (Newcastle), McManaman (Liverpool).

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