Football: Bosnich's fine form puts him on the spot: Phil Shaw reflects on a highly satisfactory night for Aston Villa set up by a brilliant penalty save

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The Independent Online
A DATE with the Hand of God beckons for Mark Bosnich, whose own dexterity helped Aston Villa draw 1-1 at Deportivo La Coruna in Wednesday's first leg of their Uefa Cup second-round tie, though he is under pressure to sacrifice a Sydney showdown with Diego Maradona for the dubious delights of a cold night at Sunderland.

Three minutes into his European debut, Bosnich sprang to his left to keep out a spot-kick by Brazil's Bebeto. Ron Atkinson described it as 'the best penalty save I've ever seen', yet it was only one of several instances which showed why Australia are so anxious to have him when they receive Argentina in the first leg of their World Cup play-off on 31 October.

Earlier this year Bosnich announced that he was retiring from international football at the age of 21. He was bitter at being suspended by Fifa, the world game's ruling body, for declining to play against Canada because of Villa commitments. Now the Socceroos' Scottish manager, Eddie Thomson, wants him back, and Bosnich said that facing the rehabilitated Maradona gave the idea 'extra appeal'.

The trip would not only rule him out of Villa's League Cup tie at Roker Park, but also a Premiership match at Swindon and almost certainly the second leg against the Spaniards. Unless the capable Nigel Spink were to perform poorly in his absence, Atkinson would probably stick with the man in possession.

However, with the World Cup finals looming, Bosnich needs first- team action. It is a classic catch-22, confused by the thorny old conflict between club and country. The Villa manager said yesterday that he viewed the player's position 'sympathetically' but added: 'If he wants to go, he knows the consequences.'

One of Villa's other 'foreigners', Dean Saunders, became only the third player to score against Deportivo in 10 matches following a counter-attack initiated by Dalian Atkinson 11 minutes from time. Saunders, like Norwich's scorers in Munich, is of course Welsh.

But while English football could not claim all the glory after a week of soul-searching and breast-beating, Ron Atkinson at least deserved praise for his tactical acumen. Aware of the damage done to Barcelona last weekend by Deportivo's wing- backs, he used his namesake and Tony Daley as wide attackers to occupy them.

The ploy worked so well that, after an ominously impressive start, Spain's team of the moment were reduced to cheap attempts to win a second penalty. In the event, the equaliser was a messy affair, Pedro Riesco scoring from a rebound after his first shot was blocked with typical agility by Bosnich.

Once they had got over the timing of the blow - there were two minutes remaining - Villa were more than content with their potentially precious away goal.

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