Football: Hodgson's choice limited to face unsung Schalke

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The Independent Online
Roy Hodgson is in no doubt as to the magnitude of the task facing his accomplished Internazionale side when faced with contrasting style of the German club Schalke in tonight's Uefa Cup final first leg.

Hodgson, the Englishman who will leave Milan for Blackburn at the end of this season, was not resorting to pre-match platitudes in his estimation of the opposition.

"German players are powerful and strong, and they never give up," Hodgson said. "They're one of the best supported clubs in the Bundesliga and it will be a tough game for us.

"Only a fool underestimates his opponent and only a fool takes comfort from past results."

Maurizio Ganz, Internazionale's leading scorer in the Uefa Cup this season with eight goals, is likewise wary of the unsung Germans. Ganz said he was prepared to face "a real battle, against a team which is athletically very strong".

With one eye fixed on next season, the 28-year-old Italian forward added: "The result of the final is very important for many Inter players as it may mean an extension of the contract for the next season."

Rarely have two clubs with such differing backgrounds met in a European final. Internazionale boast a history of international success while their German rivals have never won a European trophy. Even Schalke's last domestic triumph was back in 1972 when they won the German cup.

The two legs will be played in cities which are also vividly different. Gelsenkirchen, an industrial city in the Ruhr which has been hit hard by unemployment in recent years, will stage the first leg before the second game in one of Europe's most fashionable cities in northern Italy in two weeks' time.

The teams themselves are a contrast in composition. The Italian club - missing the suspended Jocelyn Angloma, Paul Ince and Youri Djorkaeff for the first leg - has an abundance of playing riches.

Schalke, on the other hand, have few leading players who are known internationally apart from their midfielder-cum-libero Olaf Thon, a former World Cup player, and the Czechs Jiri Nemec and Radoslav Latal.

Six of the last eight Uefa Cups have been won by Italian clubs and Internazionale will be seeking to win the Cup for the third time after successes in 1991 and 1994. But just as the Germans are unheralded they equally capable of causing an upset. One of the biggest factors in Schalke's favour in Gelsenkirchen's Parkstadion will be their support.

Schalke were a major force in German football during a period up to and including the Second World War, winning the championship six times between 1934 and 1942. But although their last German title came in 1958, they still have a fanatical following around the country, with a reputation for emotional and vocal support. Even when the club was relegated three times during the 1980s the club kept its following.

Huub Stevens, the Schalke coach, is hoping to have a fully fit squad, apart from the Dutch striker Youri Mulder, who is out for the rest of the season.

"Finals are absolutely the top games for any player. We are total outsiders," said the captain, Olaf Thon, who reached the European Cup semi-finals three times with Bayern. "But, if we manage to turn the tables, that would be the greatest thing Schalke's ever done."

Hodgson has called up two youth team players in the 18-year defender Tiziano Polenghi and 19-year-old midfielder Sergio D'Autilia, because of the suspensions and injuries.

Ganz and the utility player Salvatore Fresi are suffering from flu while the Swiss midfielder Ciriaco Sforza is troubled by a long-term, leg injury. However, given the lack of alternatives, they are all expected to play.

"Physically, we're not in great condition and pride and willingness to sacrifice ourselves will count for a lot against a physically tough side," Ganz said.

This is the first of the two German-Italian final confrontations. Juventus and Borussia Dortmund meet in the Champions' Cup final in Munich on 28 May. The Cup-Winners' Cup final is between Paris St-Germain and Barcelona on 14 May in Rotterdam.

Schalke (probable): Lehmann; Thon, De Kock, Linke, Latal, Muller, Nemec, Bueskens, Anderbruegge, Wilmots, Max.

Internazionale (probable) Pagliuca; Bergomi, Galante, Paganin, Pistone, Zanetti, Sforza, Fresi, Winter, Ganz, Zamorano.