England . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7
GRAHAM TAYLOR'S dream had a rude awakening last night when cold reality found England out of the World Cup before it has even started.
Taylor had called on his players to write themselves into the record books. Instead, history will remember him as the manager who set English football back 15 years.
Not since 1978, and Ron Greenwood's caretaker period, had England failed to qualify for the most prestigious tournament of all. The team Taylor inherited from Bobby Robson in 1990 had just reached the semi-finals, where they were unlucky to lose on penalties to the eventual champions, West Germany.
Three years on, Taylor's dummies are also-rans, a deterioration so pronounced that a change of management is both overdue and inevitable. He should leave the same way he arrived. Fired with enthusiasm.
He said he could understand speculation about his future, but was not prepared to fuel it. There would be talks with the Football Association, and a decision would be reached 'in the fullness of time'.
'Of course it's the worst moment I've known,' he said. 'You're talking about World Cup football and England are not going to the finals. It has to be the worst.'
For Taylor, and his team, to gain a reprieve, they needed to beat San Marino by a seven-goal margin while the Netherlands were losing in Poland. It was no-go on both counts.
No one expected it to be easy, but none were prepared for a start which saw the Sammarinese score one of the fastest goals in the history of international football. The no-hopers were ahead after just nine seconds, and for some 21 embarrassing minutes England were losing to a mountain top. Ben Nevis 1, the Turnips 0.
The atmosphere was suitably funereal, with just 2,378 spectators dotted around a stadium built for 45,000. The 400 or so English loyalists, sporting banners from the hot-beds of Bexhill and Bath, were outnumbered by the local carabinieri.
The strength of the opposition had been pointed up nicely when the San Marino team coach arrived, driven by one Pierluigi Benedettini, their goalkeeper. Cue for patronising jokes all round, but the smiles were not in place for long.
The band had barely finished mangling God Save the Queen when, straight from the kick- off, Pier Domenico Della Valle and Pier Angelo Manzaroli put Stuart Pearce under unexpected pressure, and England's captain sold David Seaman horribly short with a woeful back-pass which let in Davide Gualtieri for San Marino's third goal in 18 competitive fixtures in World Cup or European Championship football.
Bad was soon to become worse. Word came through that Dennis Bergkamp had given the Dutch a ninth-minute lead, and suddenly the talk was of 7-0 in Poznan and 1-0 here.
Pearce sought to atone with a rasping free-kick, but the coach driver beat it away, and after 20 minutes English faces were redder than that garish change strip. The introduction of two specialist wingers, which had been designed to improve the quality of England's distribution, did nothing of the sort, with the crossing, in particular, depressingly poor. Some semblance of sanity was restored when Paul Ince drove home his first international goal, but with half an hour gone Stuart Ripley made a dreadful hash of taking a corner to provoke the first rendition of 'We want Taylor out'.
The protest was stilled after 34 minutes when Benedettini lost a shot from Platt and Wright followed up to put England ahead, at last.
Four minutes later another mistake by Benedettini saw Les Ferdinand shoot into a vacant net, and at 3-1 and 1-1 in Poland, all was not lost.
When Wright, at the far post, headed in Ferdinand's left-wing cross with the second half less than a minute old, it seemed the blue touchpaper was well and truly alight.
Not for long. Bergkamp promptly applied the wettest of blankets by putting the Netherlands 2-1 up, and Pearce did nothing for English nerve, or morale, by surrendering possession in midfield to enable Nicola Bacciocchi to shiver Seaman's left-hand post from all of 30 yards.
An outstanding overhead save by Benedettini, at Platt's expense, kept England waiting until the 73rd minute for their fifth - Ince turning in Ferdinand's cut-back from the byline on the left. The sixth, stabbed in by Wright with 12 minutes left, kept the dream alive, but it was not to be.
The Dutch made it 3-1, and that was that, regardless of the frantic late pressure which saw Wright stab in his fourth, deep in stoppage time. Too little too late. The plain truth was that England had not played well - nowhere near well enough, which was the story of their qualifying campaign from first to last.
Long before the end it was 'Bye bye England' and 'We're so shit it's unbelievable' from fans who had come in search of a miracle and went home contemplating a summer in Benidorm rather than Boston.
England, then, will be conspicuous by their absence when the World Cup draw is made in the middle of the Nevada desert in four weeks time. Viva Las Vegas? More like Bye bye Miss American Pie.
SAN MARINO (1-4-3-2): Benedettini (FC San Marino); Guerra (FC San Marino); Manzaroli (FC San Marino), Valentini (Rimini), Canti (Juvenes), Gennari (Sogliano); Bonini (Unatt), Della Valle (Ospedaletto), Zanotti (Juvenes); Gualtieri (Juvenes); Bacciocchi (FC San Marino). Substitutes: Gobbi (Cattolica) for Valentini, 47; Mazza (Maremmana) for Bacciocchi, 61.
ENGLAND (4-2-4): Seaman (Arsenal); Dixon (Arsenal), Pallister (Manchester United), Walker (Sheffield Wednesday), Pearce (Nottingham Forest); Platt (Sampdoria), Ince (Manchester United); Ripley (Blackburn Rovers), Ferdinand (Queen's Park Rangers), Wright (Arsenal), Sinton (Sheffield Wednesday).
Referee: M Nazri (Malaysia).
----------------------------------------------------------------- FINAL GROUP TWO TABLE ----------------------------------------------------------------- P W D L F A Pts Norway 10 7 2 1 25 5 16 Netherlands 10 6 3 1 29 9 15 England 10 5 3 2 26 9 13 Poland 10 3 2 5 10 15 8 Turkey 10 3 1 6 11 19 7 San Marino 10 0 1 9 2 46 1 -----------------------------------------------------------------
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