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World Cup A-Z: Gazza

23 May 2014

By Rhys Griffiths

When England boss Roy Hodgson unveiled his England squad earlier this month it was hard not to be struck by the manager's willingness to trust in youth.

At left-back, Southampton's 18-year-old Luke Shaw was preferred to 107-cap veteran Ashley Cole, while further up the pitch the likes of Everton's Ross Barkley, Liverpool's Raheem Sterling and Arsenal's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were also handed a seat on the plane to Brazil.

This injection of youthful talent will no doubt have England fans dreaming that at least one of these rising stars of the Premier League can stride out on the international stage and make a big impact on this summer's tournament.

We don't yet know who the big English breakthrough star of Brazil 2014 might be - but they would certainly follow in some illustrious footsteps.

And while the explosion of youth on to the international scene might make some think of Wayne Rooney's blistering start at Euro 2004 or Michael Owen's staggering goal against Argentina at the World Cup in France in 1998, for many England fans of a certain age there will only ever be Gazza, Italia '90 and that unforgettable night in Turin.

Paul Gascoigne was 23 years old when he went to the 1990 World Cup with Bobby Robson's England side, having made his debut for Newcastle United aged just 17 and then signing for Tottenham Hotspur for a fee in excess of £2m two summers before the tournament.

The mercurial Geordie's skills and often outrageous personality had made him a star in his native land but now his performance on the biggest stage of all would make him famous around the world.

Gazza's talents were clear for all to see and that summer in Italy he helped to propel England out of the groups and past Belgium and Cameroon in the knock-out stages to set up a semi-final against West Germany in Turin. Here was a chance to take England back to the World Cup final for the first time since 1966.

But it was not to be. Turin on that July evening was to be a scene of heartbreak for the nation as England were eliminated in a penalty shoot-out, but the iconic image of the tournament came when Gascoigne picked up a booking that would have ruled him out of a potential final appearance.

Realising he would be denied the possibility of playing in a World Cup final he broke down in tears on the pitch, leading Spurs team-mate Gary Lineker to urge Robson to 'have a word' with the distraught 23-year-old.

England's World Cup dream may have died in Turin, but Paul Gascoigne had become a national treasure, his emotion and sheer love for the game winning him a place in the hearts of football fans across the land.

The Gateshead boy whose skills lit up Italia 90 went on to win 57 caps for England. He was never to play at a World Cup again.

Click here to see the other letters in our World Cup A to Z

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