Football: Bergkamp penalty undermines stout Villa resistance: Late goal gives holders a narrow advantage

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The Independent Online
Internazionale. .1

Aston Villa. . . 0

DENNIS BERGKAMP, who scored in both Norfolk and Milan to end Norwich's Uefa Cup odyssey last autumn, gave Internazionale a slender but deserved first-leg advantage with a penalty 15 minutes from the end of an absorbing match at the San Siro last night.

While Villa never looked likely to join Birmingham City as the only British club to win a game in Europe's football capital, the holders needed a remarkable save by Gianluca Pagliuca to deny Dean Saunders a late equaliser. How Villa would have loved an away goal against a team of Inter's class; reaching the second round will now be difficult in the extreme.

When Villa lost the away leg and the tie to Inter four years ago, more than 75,000 had packed in to acclaim Klinsmann, Matthaus, Zenga and all. On this occasion, only the end occupied by the Nerazzurri 'Ultras' had anything more than a scattering of spectators. Live television coverage and a transport stoppage - presumably laid on to make the 850 visiting fans feel at home - saw to that.

Strikers of a different nature were soon to preoccupy Villa. Bergkamp and Ruben Sosa have been criticised for failing to play as a pair, yet both might have scored in a strong Inter opening. Bergkamp, who also scored in both the Netherlands' World Cup ties with England, made a characteristic run from a deep position in only the sixth minute, and had almost infiltrated the penalty area when Ugo Ehiogu toppled him.

The Villa defender was duly cautioned, and Earl Barrett demonstrated a more composed and legitimate method of sniffing out danger when he stopped Sosa with a textbook sliding tackle. Barrett was particularly busy as both front-runners regularly foraged down his flank, although he was fortunate when a clearance driven at Wim Jonk cannoned into the arms of Nigel Spink.

The goalkeeper then used his legs to block a goal-bound Sosa shot after a short-corner routine, but Villa were gradually coming to terms with their task. A surging run and 22-yard drive by Steve Staunton midway through the first half forced Pagliuca to dive full stretch and parry the ball behind.

Villa's plans to exploit John Fashanu's aerial ability were only rarely put into practice. By the same token, their concern over Bergkamp's threat was seldom realised, the Dutchman playing obligingly deep.

Bergkamp was, however, in the right place to meet Nicola Berti's centre with a left-foot volley 10 minutes before the interval. Spink was relieved to see the ball flash barely a foot wide and again when Sosa attempted an audacious back- heel, both efforts following crosses from the Inter left.

During intense home pressure at the start of the second half, Paul McGrath seemed to attract shots like a magnet. Inter forced a succession of corners without ever reducing the Irishman and his cohorts to panic, though it must have concerned the Villa bench that they created so little on the counter-attack.

The decision to recall the manager's namesake, Dalian, had been taken with just such a strategy in mind. In fact, the forward was more often seen preventing Mirko Conte from getting behind his defence on the break, and Inter's mounting frustration was manifested in two forlorn dives by Berti after four challenges by Ehiogu.

The Danish referee did not even dignify Inter's appeals with a response. Nevertheless, the increased decibel levels appeared to spur the Italians. Villa were finally broken when a diagonal pass by the outstanding Berti sent Sosa through on Spink, who was crucially hesitant coming off his line. The Uruguyan fell under his challenge, and this time the referee pointed to the spot. Bergkamp's penalty, placed inside Spink's left- hand post, was equally decisive.

Internazionale (4-4-1-1): Pagliuca; Bergomi, Bia (Paganin, 70), Festa, Conte; Bianchi, Seno, Jonk, Berti; Bergkamp; Sosa (Del Vecchio, 83).

Aston Villa (4-4-2): Spink; Barrett, Ehiogu, McGrath, King; Atkinson, Richardson, Townsend, Staunton; Fashanu (Houghton, 78), Saunders.

Referee: P Mikkelsen (Denmark).

Chelsea power play,

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