Football: Desailly cannot see error of his ways

THE FEW fancied clubs in a poor field for the last-ever European Cup-Winners' Cup are making desperately hard work of it.

On Thursday, Lazio - having come through the first round only on away goals against Lausanne - again failed to win their home leg, Newcastle's conquerors Partizan Belgrade holding on in the Olympic Stadium for a goalless draw. Meanwhile Chelsea required a goal in the 93rd minute from their defender Marcel Desailly to avoid the ignominy of a home defeat by FC Copenhagen.

Earlier in the week, the holders' player-manager, Gianluca Vialli, was asked, rather presumptuously, if he would rather leave Lazio until the final. "If I could choose, I'd not even play them in the final," he answered, influenced perhaps by last weekend's 5-3 demolition of Inter in Milan. Vialli named Lazio and Partizan as the other clubs left that he respected most, but with the representatives of France and Germany already out, as well as Newcastle, he must have been struggling to find many others. Varteks, SV Reid, Limassol, Braga, Panionios; it is not exactly a pantheon of European football greats.

Not that Chelsea can afford to be patronising after scrambling two goals in four-and-a-half hours against Helsingborg and now Copenhagen. On Thursday, to be fair, they deserved better, as the official statistics of 29 shots on the Danish goal suggested; there is not a lot wrong with a performance that produces a shot every three minutes.

Three of them beat the former Liverpool reserve goalkeper, Michael Stensgaard, and hit a post, Gianfranco Zola's and Gustavo Poyet's efforts bouncing out before Desailly's spun the right way. That atoned for the earlier error that the Frenchman refused to acknowledge, even though it led directly to Bjarne Goldbaek scoring from Copenhagen's second and last chance of the game.

"I don't feel responsible for the goal," Desailly said. "The pass was good for Dennis, but he didn't control it." Welcome to English football, monsieur.

Presumably anyone in the France or Milan teams receiving a pass played across their own penalty area controls it nonchalantly with a single touch, however close an opponent may be. Desailly must have forgotten that it was an Englishman he was passing to; poor Dennis Wise allowed the ball to break free for Goldbaek, whose well-aimed shot threatened for a few glorious minutes to end Chelsea's unbeaten home record in European games.

Apart from the scoreline, the other disappointing feature of the night for Chelsea was the attendance of only 21,000, not many more than for the Helsingborg tie. Once again, thousands of season-ticket holders and other regulars clearly decided against shelling out full prices when the game was being shown on terrestrial television. It was all in sharp contrast to Wembley the previous night, when Arsenal's imaginative and generous pricing policy had helped draw a full house, with an atmosphere to match.

But then Chelsea would not be anybody's favourites to win a cup for public relations.

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