Football: Fashanu offers an extra edge: Aston Villa are likely to attack from the air, says Phil Shaw in Milan

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The Independent Online
THE player described by Ron Atkinson as Aston Villa's 'least experienced in Europe' is likely to be vital to their prospects of creating a Uefa Cup upset tonight against Internazionale.

So says the England and former Villa captain David Platt, now of Sampdoria, who expects the aerial combativeness of John Fashanu to pose major problems for Inter. Amid the sophisticates of Serie A there is no one, it seems, quite like Fash the Bash.

Even approaching his 33rd year, with England caps and a passport peppered with the stamps of African nations, Fashanu has never appeared in continental competition. The angular striker has pulled up few trees since a pounds 1.35m move from Wimbledon, but Platt believes the San Siro could see him in his element.

'Fashanu is the kind of player they don't come up against too often in Italy, because the ball is almost always played in to feet,' he said. 'If Villa get the ball up to him in the air then Inter will have to adjust their game quickly.

'Everyone here is telling Inter they'll have no problems with Villa, but I've spoken to their players. They remember how they had to play out of their skins last time and the fact that Fash is now with Villa.'

Last time evokes a mixture of pleasure and pain for Villa. Four years ago, in the same competition, Platt, then the captain, scored in a 2-0 triumph in Birmingham. But they fell apart in Milan, Jurgen Klinsmann netting in a 3-0 success. Inter went on to win the trophy, a feat they repeated in May after a dire domestic season.

The personnel on both sides has since changed drastically. Of Villa's team, only Nigel Spink and Paul McGrath are likely to appear, with Giuseppe Bergomi, Alessandro Bianchi and Nicola Berti the hosts' sole survivors. The revamped Inter, under the new management of Ottavio Bianchi, have made a patchy start.

'I saw them beat Padova and Torino, and we had them watched at home to Roma on Sunday,' Atkinson said. 'Although they lost to a freak own-goal, it was probably their best performance. Mind you, Bianchi's seen us twice and we won both, which may be a lucky omen.'

Villa have a reputation as a big- game team - witness the League Cup final victory over Manchester United - and their manager is confident that performing in the San Siro will be all the stimulus they need. 'It's one of the world's great stadiums,' he said. 'Playing here doesn't half help your injury list. It's like Wembley . . . A great physio.'

Villa's three foreigners will almost certainly be Dean Saunders, Steve Staunton and McGrath. The last two, plus the assimilated Andy Townsend and Ray Houghton, were in the Ireland team who beat Italy at the World Cup. While Atkinson sees their presence as a 'psychological advantage', it could be offset if Inter include Wim Jonk and Dennis Bergkamp, the Dutch scorers when the Irish were knocked out.

A year ago, Villa squeezed through against Slovan Bratislava before losing narrowly to Deportivo La Coruna. Both were stronger opponents than the public perceived, Atkinson claimed, whereas he wondered whether Inter were 'as good as in the Klinsmann era'.

'I certainly don't see this game as being any harder than having to go to Highbury and win, which we did in the League Cup last season,' he said. It is a theory, like the Fashanu factor, whose validity should be thoroughly examined tonight.

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