FOOTBALL : Hoddle faces a dilemma over Kharin

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The Independent Online
Right on cue for Chelsea's travelling choir, three, four, even more men have gone to mow on the pitch at the Olympiastadion to ensure tonight's European Cup-Winners' Cup quarter-final first leg can go ahead on schedule, writes Trevor Haylett from Bruges.

Another heavy downpour from the Belgian skies yesterday would have placed the first-leg game in serious doubt if it had not been for the remedial work carried out at the weekend to a quagmire surface, which has caused the last three home fixtures of Club Bruges to be postponed.

Officially an inspection this morning will decide if the next stage of Glenn Hoddle's quest for European glory can take place today. However, the Belgian officials were confident last night that the permissible 24- hour delay will not be necessary.

Roughly - for that is the appropriate word - two-thirds of the pitch was dug up on Saturday to a depth of 15cm and replaced by specially transplanted grass. A large plastic sheet will cover it until just before kick-off.

The men who went to mow - can anyone explain the relevance of the Chelsea anthem? - have done a thorough job. It is an extreme measure to undertake days before a big game but Bruges have had enough. An official said yesterday, "This bad field has cost us the championship."

Like their hosts, Chelsea, whose journey across from Gatwick airport was delayed by technical problems that forced them to change planes, would prefer to have the grass beneath their feet rather than to slog through the mud and thunder. Bruges have a sound record of achievement in Europe having contested with Liverpool, and lost, the finals of the European Cup in 1978 and the 1976 Uefa Cup.

In 1972, on their way to lifting this trophy, Chelsea beat these opponents 4-2 on aggregate in the quarter-final, having lost 2-0 in Belgium while Hoddle, believe it or not, was sent off here playing for Tottenham.

Bruges earlier this season sold their leading player, the Nigerian international Daniel Amokachi, to Everton Reserves and are less inconvenienced by the foreigners rule than are Chelsea.

Hoddle's dilemma in that regard could force him to leave out his Russian goalkeeper, Dimitri Kharin, who hurt a shoulder at the weekend but expects to be fit.

That victory at West Ham was only Chelsea's second in 14 games but Hoddle insists they have been playing well, and while they will certainly have to do so tonight, their manager sounds confident that his side can progress.

"Bruges are a good technical side and have vast experience in Europe. But, over two legs, we are capable of getting through. We shouldn't respect them too much," Hoddle said.

"Our win over West Ham on Saturday was nicely timed, and now we have to make sure we use that as a springboard to finish the season the way we started it."

Chelsea (possible): Hitchcock; Clarke, Johnsen, Lee, Sinclair; Spackman, Peacock, Burley, Wise; Spencer, Stein.

Club Bruges (possible): Verlinden; Medved, Okon, Renier, Borkelmans, Vermant, Staelens, Van der Elst, Beulinckx, Verheyen, Eykelkamp.