Football: Curcic pounces to blunt the Blades

Crystal Palace 1 Sheffield United 0
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The Independent Online
IT HAS been quite a week for Sasa Curcic. On Wednesday, while his Crystal Palace teammates were being knocked out of the Worthington Cup by Bury, the Yugoslav midfielder was playing for his country against Brazil in Sao Luis. After an exhausting return journey, Curcic was put on the bench for yesterday's First Division match at Selhurst Park, but came off it at half-time to score the winner.

It was fitting that the game was settled by an overseas import, for this was a perfect demonstration of how English football has embraced the global game. Twelve nations and four continents were represented on the pitch and the game was broadcast live to an estimated television audience of 100 million in China.

The Chinese had their first taste of live English league football thanks to the presence in the Crystal Palace team of Fan Zhiyi, their national captain. The verdicts of the Chinese viewing public on English football and of the somewhat smaller Sky television audience on Fan were probably much the same, for this was a tedious encounter to which the Chinaman contributed little.

Fan frequently seemed bemused by the pace of the game, although he worked hard and showed occasional good touches, most notably when his goalbound header was cleared off the line after 69 minutes and in the build-up to the goal five minutes later. Racing on to a return pass from the industrious Nicky Rizzo, Fan hit his cross beyond the far post, where Curcic cut inside before shooting low into the corner of the net.

Until then Palace had struggled to take proper advantage of their extra man, Ian Hamilton having been sent off after 39 minutes following two cautions. The Blades had shaded the first half, Hamilton hitting the bar after only 12 seconds.

After the break United still had chances - Gareth Taylor wasted two one- on-ones with the goalkeeper - but Palace gradually took command. They are struggling in attack, though, and, on the evidence of this ineffective display by their forwards, will surely regret the sale of Neil Shipperley to Nottingham Forest.

Goal: Curcic (74) 1-0.

Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Digby; Burton, Tuttle, Linighan, Amsalem (Curcic, h-t); Lombardo, Fan Zhiyi, Mullins, Rizzo (Del Rio, 84); Dyer (Padovano, 53), Morrison.

Sheffield United (5-3-2): Goram; Borbokis, Marker, Bruce (Nilsen, 78), Sandford (Devlin, 78), Quinn; Hamilton, Stuart, Ford; Saunders, Marcelo (Taylor, h-t).

Bookings: Crystal Palace: Amsalem, Mullins, Lombardo. Sheffield United: Hamilton, Bruce, Stuart. Sending-off: Sheffield United: Hamilton.

Referee: P Taylor (Cheshunt).

Man of the match: Rizzo.

Attendance: 20,370.