Venables savours a feast of talent

After the B international, the England coach has an even longer list of in-form strikers. Guy Hodgson reports

Terry Venables is like a cat faced with several bowls of cream. He knows he wants one of them, maybe two, but which? The England coach has a team's worth of strikers, all of whom have supporters, and short of playing them all someone is going to b e disappointed.

Tuesday's 2-0 victory in the B international against the Republic of Ireland at Anfield hardly helped clear the picture. Andy Cole scored in his first match under Venables and had an air of menace every time he touched the ball, while Nick Barmby and Robbie Fowler also looked sharp - albeit against a tiring Republic of Ireland defence. Only Chris Sutton failed to show his club form, and even then the Blackburn player had a integral part in Cole's goal.

Given that Alan Shearer, Peter Beardsley, Les Ferdinand, Ian Wright, Stan Collymore, Teddy Sheringham and Matt Le Tissier are also around, the queue to make the front two places in the senior team is beginning to resemble the Saturday evening scramble for lottery tickets. Not that Venables looked like the man next in line as the Camelot computer called time.

"Everybody wants to play," he said. "They want to be involved and it is my job to select the right people. You can have seven players on a par but you can only pick three or four in any squad and it's going to come down to my preference. If there is a big difference between the form of players it makes my selection easier, but if they are all fighting at it the decision becomes harder. It's a problem I'm happy to have."

Indeed, Venables had reason to be content across a broad spectrum. Sol Campbell moved forward from his normal position in the back four to look Savile Row measured for the role of midfield anchor, while Tim Sherwood had a commanding match in the centre of the pitch. The wingers, Ruel Fox and Jason Wilcox, too, barely put a foot wrong.

"They all played well," Venables said. "It was very encouraging. You can get hit with lack of form or injuries and it's nice to know you can call upon people you know are ready. It's difficult that jump, mixing with fresh faces, trying to form a rapport with people you don't play with week-in week-out. You have got to have a special personality."

Looking forward to the European Championship finals in 18 months' time, he said: "I am not far away. I'm very happy."

Indeed, just about the only thing to take the edge off a valuable exercise was an attendance of 7,431, which would have been fewer still if there had been different opponents. The Irish anthem was sung by the majority of the crowd while "God Save The Queen" was played out to near silence. The contrast could hardly have been starker than with the record attendance of 25,000 at Newcastle for the Under-21 international last month.

St James' Park has not had too many big matches played on it since the Seventies, and Liverpool's home match two days previously and the imminence of Christmas were not designed to push the numbers up. But the overwhelming impression was that the public failed to tap Venables' enthusiasm for the fixture.

Put B after England and, in some parts of the country, the response is going to be "so what".

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