Venables puts his faith in Sheringham

INTERNATIONAL FOOTBALL: England welcome back Gascoigne as Republic draw up plans to replace injured Townsend
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Football Correspondent

It was hard to tell who was more delighted at Teddy Sheringham's selection for England yesterday: the player himself or Wembley's over-burdened switchboard operators.

It was impossible to ask either party. Sheringham was refusing to talk and you can never get through to Wembley. One thing was sure: his inclusion in the team to face Switzerland tonight was unlikely to clog even further Wembley's telephone lines with late requests for tickets. Sheringham's fan club may be based much closer to Wembley than Les Ferdinand's, but it is considerably smaller.

The inclusion of Sheringham underlines that, when it comes to team selection, public and media opinion mean little to Venables. Which is how it should be: if Venables gets it wrong he is heavily criticised, so he may as well take risks on his own judgement.

There is a case for playing Sheringham. He and Alan Shearer - who is retained - have started together twice for England: against the United States in September last year Shearer scored twice in a 2-0 win (his last goals for England); against Sweden in June Sheringham scored in a 3-3 draw (his only England goal). In both games they linked as well as any pair have under Venables.

Sheringham's partnerships with Jurgen Klinsmann and, increasingly in recent weeks, with Chris Armstrong show that he works well with other centre-forwards. He tends to play further forward than Nick Barmby or Peter Beardsley and is thus more able to support Shearer. His aerial ability also gives England a greater choice of targets. And he is in form with 12 goals this season.

On the other hand, Beardsley has looked as sharp as anyone in training and has much greater cunning when it comes to breaking down defences on the ground. And while Sheringham may be better in the air, England will be playing without a suitable winger: Steve McManaman is a winger, but he tends to put in hard, low crosses and cut-backs rather than deep, lofted ones.

The biggest danger in playing Shearer and Sheringham together is that England will resort to hitting long balls forward too early and fail to support in time. Robert Lee's inclusion (David Platt was not regarded as match-fit) may remedy that problem, but it is still a retrograde approach.

The other doubt surrounding Sheringham is his pace: he is simply not quick enough for international football. What the player himself thinks can only be guessed at as he was not talking to the press.

Gascoigne also returns, his knee injury having eased, and will renew his promising partnership with Jamie Redknapp. "He said he could have played with me all night," Redknapp said yesterday, referring to Gascoigne's reaction after the Colombia game.

More disappointing than the absence of either Beardsley or Ferdinand is the omission of their Newcastle team-mate, Steve Howey. Venables explained that Gary Pallister did well against Norway but, given that he was mainly bombarded with the sort of high balls he faces in the Premiership, that was no surprise. One of Venables' themes is the need to give his young players experience and this was an ideal chance to increase Howey's.

With Graeme Le Saux also regarded as short of match fitness England will field their most experienced defence under Venables. But conceding goals is not the problem: scoring is. The well-organised Swiss are unlikely to offer England many chances to improve in that department.

Although the onus is on England to go forward, and the crowd - which is not expected to be large - is likely to be impatient, they will have to be cautious. "We have to play more with our heads than our hearts," Tony Adams said.

No one needs to get the balance right more than Gascoigne, yet neither his fitness nor his temperament inspire confidence. If England do concede a goal it could be a difficult night. It will be interesting to see who the substitutes are: they may be needed. A draw would be a reasonable result, as long as it is not 0-0 again.

Happy Hodgson, page 31