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The master of the shoot-out

If extra time fails to resolve proceedings at Old Trafford today, France can rest assured that they will have the calmest man on the pitch. Few players view penalty shoot-outs quite like Bernard Lama, whose save from Clarence Seedorf opened the way for Aime Jacquet's team to beat the Dutch and earn today's semi-final against the Czech Republic.

"I love the challenge," Lama told the French sports daily L'Equipe after Saturday's quarter-final. "It's a moment when you have to be strong and sure of yourself. It's one of the rare occasions when a goalkeeper can save his team. In my whole career, and even as a boy, I've never lost a penalty shoot-out."

Lama's brilliant reflex saves but sometimes eccentric goalkeeping (his kicking can be erratic, to say the least) have prompted comparisons with Bruce Grobbelaar, whose eccentric antics during another famous shoot-out helped Liverpool win the 1984 European Cup final in Rome.

Not that Lama ever tries to intimidate the opposition. "I don't say a word and I don't try to catch the eye of the penalty takers," he said. "That doesn't achieve anything at this level. The penalty-takers are all strong-willed guys. I prefer just to concentrate on the ball. The ball is the only thing that counts. You need to see what direction it's going and move at the very last moment."

Nor does Lama's contribution end there. At Anfield he gave words of advice and encouragement to France's five penalty takers before each kick. Lama has even been known to take penalties himself, although he has yet to do so for his country.

The 33-year-old Lama only became a regular choice at the age of 30. A pillar of French football for the last 10 years, he is proof that success can come to those who wait. Last month he helped Paris St-Germain win the European Cup-Winners' Cup; now a greater prize beckons.

Paul Newman

MAN ON THE SPOT

Bernard Lama (France)

EURO 96

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No 15: Buses from Leeds city centre to Elland Road last week were charging pounds 1.50 for the short trip - almost three times the normal fare.

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Sleepy Russian caught in bed

The Russian defence often gave the impression of being in a state of collective slumber during their Group C matches against Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic. As they left for home last week, however, one member of their squad really was caught out - he overslept at the team hotel and was left behind as the Russians set off.

He was found in bed at the Wrightington Hotel and Country Club, near Wigan, by a chambermaid 20 minutes after the party had left for the airport. The embarrassed player was then bundled into a car and was rushed off to join his team-mates, who had not even noticed that he was missing.

The hotel refused to reveal his name, but its manager, David Calderbank, said: "He made the plane home although I think he had a bad head. The squad had been under strict orders during the tournament and were not allowed to have much fun, but on their last night they went to a night- club in Wigan and they obviously had a good time.

"This chap was fast asleep when the chambermaid went to his room. She ran down to me and, although he could speak no English, when I showed him my watch he just leapt from the bed. I rang the team coach to tell them they'd left one behind and they hadn't even noticed..."

FOOTBALL: THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

"Stuart Pearce ist eine bluse fur ein grosses madchen."

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