Blackburn must beware danger from Dhorasoo

Lyons' Uefa Cup campaign is being inspired by `the next Zidane'.
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The Independent Online
THE TASK facing Blackburn Rovers at the Stade Gerland in Lyons tonight is an unenviable one: Roy Hodgson's side have to beat a Lyons team who lie second in the French league and are unbeaten this season if they are to make progress in the Uefa Cup - a tournament in which Hodgson went all the way to the final with his previous club, Internazionale.

After a poor start in the League, Hodgson might have been forgiven for looking to Europe as a source of inspiration for some of his players, but in the first leg at Ewood Park they were made to pay for some profligate finishing by an efficient Lyons outfit and a wondrous strike at the death by the Polish international defender Jacek Bak - something Glenn Hoddle will have taken note of for later use in England's Euro 2000 qualifying campaign.

But, had it not been for an equally wondrous save by Tim Flowers, Blackburn might have been trailing long before that. The man Flowers denied was the Lyons playmaker, Vikash Dhorasoo, a talented 25-year-old who, since moving from Le Havre in the summer and making an impressive start with his new club, is being compared favourably with the incumbent No 10 in the French national side, Zinedine Zidane.

Dhorasoo, a Hindu who was born near Le Havre to parents who emigrated from Mauritius two years earlier, was voted the French player of the year by the sports paper L'Equipe in his last season with his home-town team, an achievement which attracted the attention not only of Lyons but several other clubs, including one or two from the Premiership. "I don't want to say who, because I'm quite happy at Lyons," he said shortly after Friday evening's drab goalless draw at Nancy, which Lyons seemed to treat more as a training exercise for tonight's match than anything else.

If Dhorasoo had chosen to come to England, it certainly would have been popular with the people of Mauritius, who are fed a regular diet of English football through satellite television. Dhorasoo's brothers and sisters were all born there, and he himself is a regular visitor on family holidays.

"They love English football, particularly Manchester United and Liverpool," Dhorasoo said. "They know about me and, although they like the French too, I think they would like me to play for an English club most of all.

"I also love English football but I don't know whether I'll ever play there. I like their style of play, the fighting spirit, the commitment and the culture of the public as well. They are behind their team for 90 minutes, encouraging them."

Like the majority of the island's population, Dhorasoo's grandparents moved from India to Mauritius some time after the last Dodo saw the light of day there, and Dhorasoo's origins make him an exception to one of the more curious rules of football, both in France and England. "I am one of the only players of Indian origin to have played at this level," he said, "and certainly the only Mauritian." But for those seeking a satisfactory explanation for this cultural phenomenon Dhorasoo, a highly intelligent former business studies undergraduate, had to admit: "I can't explain it."

Dhorasoo knows he has a good chance of being called up to the French squad for the first time later this week as the world champions prepare for European Championship qualifiers against Russia and Andorra next month. But, for the moment, he remains focused on tonight's match and on bringing a long-overdue taste of footballing success to the gastronomic capital of France.

Looking back on the first leg against Blackburn, he said: "It was the first time I'd played in Europe, and the first time I'd played against an English team, so for me it was quite an occasion."It was hard but it was also a great win for us and we've taken a big step towards getting through. We knew all about Sutton, and Davies impressed us too, but we managed that first leg quite well.

"With the long ball out of defence that they use they will be a danger to us at home, but I think the biggest fear we have for the second leg is of ourselves. If we play well enough we should get through, even though it won't be easy; but if we're not on top of our game it will be difficult."

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