World Cup Football: Pearce's fitness presents a dilemma: Taylor forced to make late decision on who will watch Overmars as Scotland ponder the role of McAllister

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND were impaled on the horns of a peculiarly British dilemma on arrival here last night - whether to kick or chase.

Marc Overmars is the fastest forward in Dutch football, and the Ajax winger is perceived as a major threat to England's prospects of advancement to the World Cup finals.

Under normal circumstances, Overmars would be steeling himself for the uncompromising attentions of Stuart Pearce in the make-or- break qualifier in the Feyenoord stadium tomorrow. Circumstances, though, are not normal. Pearce, recovering from a hamstring injury, was able to resume training yesterday, but only gingerly.

Graham Taylor is to delay a decision on his captain's fitness until this afternoon, but a three-week lay- off is no sort of preparation for a vital World Cup tie, and the odds must favour Tony Dorigo's return at left-back.

Pearce, the no-prisoners tackler, or Dorigo, the quickest full-back around? Do England want to kick or chase the Ajax flyer?

Taylor did not see it quite like that, of course. The captain's clenched-fist leadership was too valuable to be discarded lightly. Pearce would be given every chance to prove that he might reasonably be expected to get through England's biggest match since the World Cup semi-final with Germany, three years ago.

'Stuart is going to be touch and go,' the manager said. 'The fact that we haven't already ruled him out, and are giving him until the day before the game, shows the importance we attach to his presence.'

Significantly, Taylor added that the team had been preparing without Pearce, and the probability is that England will not risk a player who is well short of match fitness.

The man himself said: 'I want to play desperately, but I have to be honest with myself and with the manager. Playing for England is a big thing, but this is a very big game, and we need everyone on the pitch to be properly fit.'

There is better news of Ian Wright, who has trained for two days with no adverse reaction from his troublesome knee, and he has been passed fit for selection.

'I can't see why there should be any problem with Ian now,' Taylor said. Only when it comes to scoring goals, came the cynical suggestion from the back of the room.

The Arsenal striker's record for England - one in 14 appearances - is a millstone around his neck, but the manager was at pains to lighten the load.

'People expect him to score for us as regularly as he does at club level, and he hasn't, but he does contribute other things. I am trying very hard not to make it too big a thing.'

The Dutch have decided that there is no profit in lofting crosses in the direction of defenders as strong in the air as Tony Adams and Gary Pallister, and are planning to omit Johnny Bosman, their orthodox centre-forward, and play a more composed game through Ajax's Ronald De Boer.

A second alteration to the team who played the Under-21s at the weekend will see the experienced Jan Wouters replace Wim Jonk in midfield.

England treat the first sign of a swallow not so much as a summer but as a full-blown tourist trade, and one good win, at home to Poland, banished the memory of Oslo and Boston.

In truth, one result against timid opposition has not transformed an ordinary team into world-beaters, but there do seem to be grounds for guarded optimism.

Taylor also draws comfort from recent history. 'Invariably,' he says, 'if you look at England's record over the years, qualification has come down to the last game in the series and, generally speaking, the English footballer reacts well with his back to the wall.'

In support of his argument, he cited the last three major tournaments. To qualify for the 1992 European Championship, England needed to draw their last game, in Poland, and did so. Another away draw had been required, and obtained, in Katowice to get to the 1990 World Cup, and in 1988, to reach the European finals, Bobby Robson's side had gone to what was then Yugoslavia and won 4-1.

'We tend to deliver the goods in such situations,' Taylor said. 'There is a good history about it.'

(Photograph omitted)

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