European Football: Beleaguered Giresse feels the stress

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The Independent Online
MANY GREAT footballers find life in the constant glare of the camera lens uncomfortable. But for supporters of the French Champions, life in Lens is becoming simply unbearable. For a club heavy on tradition and with one of the most loyal sets of supporters in France - they regularly attract 35,000 to the Felix Bollaert Stadium whereas the northern mining town's population is 28,000 - seven points from the opening seven matches of the "Blood and Gold's" title defence is below the standard demanded.

The team has started well enough in the Champions League, with 1-1 draws against Arsenal and Dynamo Kiev, but desperately need to reverse their domestic form having lost their last two games.

A chance to kickstart their season beckons tonight as they face another former giant in the doldrums in the Parc des Prince, home of Paris St Germain. Lens will be handicapped by suspensions to right back Eric Sikora and midfielder Cyril Rool, both sent off in the 4-2 home loss to Nantes a week ago, and the absence on international duty of Ghana's Alex Nyarko.

PSG, who won the Cup Winners' Cup in 1996 and were finalists last year, could hardly sink any lower after their worst showing in Europe for 10 years - losing 4-3 on aggregate in the first round to Israeli minnows Maccabi Haifa on Thursday.

Their new coach, the former France midfield general Alain Giresse, refused to comment after the defeat, but the club's passionate, and restless, fans are wondering when they will see a return on investments such as Nigeria's Jay Jay Okocho, a French record pounds 11m summer signing from Fenerbahce, who is yet to show the form that illuminated the World Cup and who will be missing today on African Nations Cup duty. PSG hope that key defender Christian Woerns will be fit to return after missing the match in Haifa through injury.

Their problems have not been helped by the Italian striker Marco Simone revealing that, when it comes to team selection, it is the club's owner, Charles Bietry, rather than Giresse who holds sway. Bietry, who bought the club in the summer, was non-committal when asked whether the coach would still be in the job today. Bietry said: "I'm not asserting nor confirming anything. We have to find out why we were eliminated [from the Cup Winners Cup]. It's a huge defeat, it's unforgivable."

In Italy, the clash of the day is between the top two clubs in the table - the unlikely duo of Fiorentina, the leaders, and Udinese.

Fiorentina continued their excellent start with a midweek Uefa Cup victory over Croat side Hadjuk Split, while Udinese have had a miserable week marked by their Uefa Cup elimination by Bayer Leverkusen and the club's possible involvement in a drug scandal amid claims that the Italian authorities covered up a positive dope test on one of their players last season.

Champions Juventus, who slipped up at Parma last week, hope to get back on track when Piacenza are the visitors at the Stadio delle Alpi. Juve will be boosted by the return of star midfielder Zinedine Zidane, who missed the Parma defeat but played in midweek in the Champions' League.

Roma, Leeds' next opponents in the Uefa Cup, travel to Sampdoria missing injured Austrian goalkeeper Michael Konsel and Cameroon defender Pierre Wome.

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