Venables lifts pressure on goal-shy Shearer

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The Independent Online
There were television crews from Switzerland, journalists from the Netherlands, even a radio reporter from Austria. What with the Mediterranean sunshine and the Parisian parasols and Danish pastries of the media village, Bisham Abbey had taken on a truly continental flavour yesterday.

It all combined to bring home the pan-European nature of the event which is about to engulf England and, for the first time, everyone was focused on the football - flight CX251, the China Jump bar and Terry Venables' legal battles were consigned to history.

This was not necessarily good news as far as Alan Shearer was concerned. The Blackburn striker has nothing to fear when the press go looking for skeletons to rattle but, when the inquisition turns to football, goals - or rather his lack of them - take centre stage.

The last time Shearer was quizzed by the press at Bisham the subject was his rumoured transfer to Manchester United. When it ended he said, as he walked away, "I can't believe it, it is the first time no one has asked me about the drought." Then an autograph-hunting boy asked him: "Why don't you score any goals for England?"

So it was back to familiar ground with Shearer playing straighter than any Indian batsman. He refused even to be fazed by the presence of Gary Lineker, his considerably more prolific predecessor, who was giving his son George an early introduction to the media's ways.

"I always fancy myself to score," Shearer said, "some days you do, some days you don't. I am lucky enough to score a lot of goals at club level but in internationals the defences are better and chances fewer.

"I do not get that many for England and I'd like more but why should they plan the team around me? There are 10 other good players - as long as someone is scoring."

It is 22 months and 1,065 minutes in an England shirt since Shearer last scored for England. In that time, Leicester have been relegated and promoted, Eric Cantona has been shamed and rehabilitated, and there have been almost as many Royal divorces as resignations from the government over sex scandals. Yet Shearer is right when he adds: "If we win the tournament and I don't score no one will be complaining."

Venables is not. Shearer would still be his senior striker even if Les Ferdinand was not suffering from his habitual groin strain. "I have no doubts whatsoever," the coach said. "He is a great goalscorer but he is also a top-class footballer. He draws others into the game and makes chances for them."

Ferdinand stepped out of training half-way through with his groin problem. Paul Gascoigne also missed the end of yesterday's session, his feet are still sore after having blisters. Gary Neville and Tony Adams both returned to training after missing the week's earlier sessions.

All four are expected to be fit for tomorrow when England's main worry could be the referee. Spain's Manuel Diaz Vega - a showman - is in charge and there is concern he will be seeking a scapegoat to set a precedent for the European football union's latest crackdown.

Venables, recalling the unlucky dismissal of Bolivia's Marco Etcheverry in the 1994 World Cup's opening game, said: "They can be as strict as they like - the clampdown made for some super games in the World Cup. But I don't want anyone looking for a sacrificial lamb because it is the first game."

England's match against the Dutch will be refereed by Austria's Gerd Grabher, hence the presence of the Austrian radio man. "Have you a message for the referee," he asked Stuart Pearce. "Yeah, tell him we're right behind him," Pearce replied. An unnerving thought.