Football: Romanians a mystery for Aston Villa

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Aston Villa's reward for beating Athletic Bilbao on Tuesday is a third-round tie against the former European Cup holders, Steaua Bucharest. Chris Maume reports on England's sole survivors in the Uefa Cup.

Aston Villa will be facing a journey into the unknown when they visit Steaua Bucharest for the first leg of their Uefa Cup third-round tie.

Victory over Steaua would put Villa into the fourth round for the first time since 1977-78, season when they went out to Barcelona. But for the moment the Romanians are something of a mystery.

"The difference from the other ties this season is that we knew a lot about Bordeaux and Bilbao, with their relative closeness to England and with their games being shown on television," Villa manager Brian Little said. "I am sure a lot of the lads are going to be coming up to me and saying, `Who are they? Can we see videos of them?'

"We always do our homework on the opposition and our chief scout Peter Withe will be going to watch them this weekend. But that sort of preparation is going to be even more important this time."

Steaua beat Fenerbahce in the first round, while this week they defeated the French side Bastia on the away goals rule.

Little confirmed yesterday that he will be taking no disciplinary action against Gareth Southgate, who spoke out earlier this week against the club's transfer policies, criticism which the manager took personally. Yesterday, Southgate was keen to affirm his commitment to Villa. "I just want people to know all I want is the best for Villa," he said, "and only my passion for the club has brought out what happened this week."

Gianluca Vialli's three-goal contribution to the 7-1 thrashing of Tromso on Thursday night may give a route back into the Italian national side, at least according to his manager at Chelsea, Ruud Gullit.

"He has shown he is a great professional and he's made himself a genuine candidate for a recall," Gullit said yesterday. "He's a player back in form and it would be nice for Italy to have someone of his experience and charisma."

The former Juventus and Sampdoria striker last played for his country in 1993, and yesterday fought shy of explicitly staking his claim for next Saturday's World Cup play-off against Russia, though he did say, "I wouldn't say no if the manager asked. Italy have plenty of very good strikers in their squad, including Gianfranco Zola. If they need me, I would be happy to play. But with or without me, I hope with all my heart that they beat Russia."

Vialli expected to do well, despite the 3-2 defeat in the first leg. "I dreamed before the game that we were going to give a great performance," he said. "But I never imagined I'd score a hat-trick."

The Tromso coach, Hakan Sandberg, seemed fairly unconcerned about the battering his side took.

"I thought we looked a bit nervous and obviously Chelsea were the better team. They are one of the favourites to win the trophy and I think they have a very good chance."

Sandberg has obviously been doing his homework on English football-speak, though precisely what he was on about was not entirely clear. "Last season I was as sick as a parrot," he said. "Now I'm on nine cloud - or is it cloud nine?"

UEFA CUP third-round draw: Lazio (It) v Rapid Vienna; Sporting Braga (Por) v Schalke 04 (Ger); Twente Enschede (Neth) v Auxerre (Fr); Croatia Zagreb v Atletico Madrid; Strasbourg (Fr) v Internazionale (It); Steaua Bucharest (Rom) v Aston Villa; Ajax (Neth) v VfL Bochum (Ger); Karlsruhe (Ger) v Spartak Moscow. First-leg ties to be played 25 November; second- leg ties to be played 9 December.