Shearer's priceless strike

World Cup qualifier: England survive Gascoigne injury and missed penalty to pave the way for France '98; Poland 0 England 2 Shearer 6, Sheringham 90 Attendance: 32,000

Bitterly cold was the Polish night but England could return glowing to the warmth of home from Silesia last night having raised the temperature in their World Cup qualifying group with a victory for tenacity, organisation and ruthlessness on the counter-attack.

They were led from the front. Alan Shearer missed a penalty but little else. His surely struck early goal set England on their way, his performance as willing chaser of the outlet pass was exemplary and his hitting a post from the spot-kick scarcely any detraction. England also overcame the early loss of Paul Gascoigne with a badly cut right thigh before Teddy Sheringham's sealing last-minute tap-in.

Much remains to be done in this campaign but no longer does victory over Italy - whom Engand trail in qualifying Group Two now by only a point - in Rome in October look so remote as they seek to claim automatic qualification for the finals in France next summer. Indeed a draw could even see England through as best European section runners-up. A play-off at least is guaranteed, with the Poles' chances ended last night.

"Shearer and Sheringham are becoming the most-feared pair of strikers in the world and getting better with each game," the England coach Glenn Hoddle said. "Our eyes are not on second place. We want to win the group. We have now won three away games and there is no reason why we can't win a fourth."

Hoddle was rewarded for naming an attacking team. Gascoigne was declared fit enough to start, replacing the more defensive David Batty, while Robert Lee, scorer of a goal against South Africa last week, retained his place. The only other change from England's last World Cup match, against Georgia last month, saw Gareth Southgate replace the injured Tony Adams in England's defence.

England walked out to a noisy reception, though with half its stands being redeveloped, reducing the capacity from 60,000 to 32,000, the Slaski stadium in Chorzow, near Katowice, was less intimidating than on England's last appearance here four years ago. England's starting line-up contained only three of that night's: Gascogine, Paul Ince and Sheringham.

The match kicked off in a haze of smoke from flares but England's way forward was quickly cleared by a goal of incisive quality. England having repelled a Polish corner, Ince picked up the ball in midfield and advanced swiftly. His vision was sharp, his aim true as he slipped a ball inside Shearer's marker Marek Jozwiak for him to run on to in the inside-right channel and drive a low shot past Andrzej Wozniak and inside the far post.

It was Shearer's 10th goal in 10 games for England, his fifth of this World Cup campaign. It was also the classic example of Hoddle's plan - draw the Poles forward and expose them with swift counter-attacking. The only cloud on England's horizon in a first half they dominated, thanks to the galvanising Ince's tight rein on the Polish captain and playmaker Piotr Nowak, was yet another injury to the ill-fated Gascoigne, sustained after a rough challenge by Krzytstof Bukalski. "He is in a lot of pain but he will travel to the tournament in France this week with us," Hoddle said.

The silver lining was that the breakthrough had been made and Hoddle was able to bring on Batty to cement midfield. He also found time to get forward in a bright spell for England, driving in a shot that Wozniak, whose handling of the greasy ball was suspect, grabbed gratefully.

The Poles responded just before half-time with a lively period of their own. Gary Neville allowed a pass from Andrzej Juskowiak to slither under his foot to Jacek Dembinski, who shot straight at David Seaman. Dembinski then glanced Nowak's cross just wide and from another cross, Juskowiak forced Seaman into a low save with a downward header. The solid Gareth Southgate also cleared a cross-cum-shot from Slawomir Majak from the line.

The second goal should have gone to England, however, moments before the interval. Beckham and Sheringham had shots blocked before the ball came out to Batty, whose cross to the far post Shearer chested down and seemed about to convert until Jozwiak held him back. Shearer struck Wozniak's right post low down with the penalty.

The Poles brought on Piotr Swierczewski for the second half and he gave them fresh impetus from midfield. Less welcome for them was the double departure within 15 minutes of the restart of their most creative players, Juskowiak and Nowak, the latter having shot just wide minutes earlier.

England sought to capitalise on the Poles' subsequent disorganisation and Graeme Le Saux broke well down the left, sending in a cross which Shearer almost reached. From Jozwiak's clearing header, Batty drove a shot over the bar. Then Sheringham, headed free by Beckham, chipped straight at Wozniak.

Now England were restablishing the superiority they had shown in the first half and Ince and Batty both booked, to the Poles' three cautions, amid a tough battle that their roughhouse opponents did not shirk - broke up Polish advances tenaciously. A competent defence was thus well shielded and Seaman enjoyed the luxury of waving wide the odd long-range shot.

Then, time ebbing away, Lee and Sheringham combined in midfield, the former racing clear, rounding Wozniak and supplying Sheringham for a sidefooted goal. Such gloss on a competent display that contained touches of class will surely have raised even Italian eyebrows.

England (3-5-2): Seaman (Arsenal); G Neville (Manchester United), Southgate (Aston Villa), Campbell (Tottenham Hotspur); Beckham (Manchester United), Lee (Newcastle United), Ince (Internazionale), Gascoigne (Rangers), Le Saux (Blackburn Rovers); Shearer (Newcastle United), Sheringham (Tottenham Hotspur). Subs: Batty (Newcastle Utd) for Gascoigne, 17, P Neville (Manchester Utd) for Beckham, 89.

Poland (3-5-2): Wozniak (Porto, Por); Jozwiak (Guingamp, Fr), Zielinski (Legia Warsaw), Kaluzny (Zaglebie Lubin); Ledwon (GKS Katowice), Bukalski (Genk, Bel), Waldoch (VfL Bochum, Ger), Nowak (1860 Munich, Ger), Majak (Widzew Lodz); Dembinski (Widzew Lodz), Juskowiak (Borussia Monchengladbach, Ger). Subs: Swierczewski (Bastia) for Bukalsi, h-t; Adamczyk (Hutnik Krakow) for Juskwiak, 51 Kucharski (Legia Warsaw) for Nowak, 57.

Referee: U Meier (Switz).

Group Two

P W D L F A Pts

Italy 6 5 1 0 11 1 16

England 6 5 0 1 11 2 15

Poland 5 1 1 3 3 8 4

Georgia 3 0 0 3 0 5 0

Moldova 4 0 0 4 2 11 0

Forthcoming matches: 7 June: Georgia v Moldova. 14 June: Poland v Georgia. 10 Sept: England v Moldova; Georgia v Italy. 24 Sept: Moldova v Georgia. 7 Oct: Moldova v Poland. 11 Oct: Italy v England; Georgia v Poland.

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