Football: Inter obstacle for United

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The Independent Online
IF THIS finally turns out to be Manchester United's season in the European Cup, nobody could say Alex Ferguson's side did not do it the hard way. After qualifying as runners-up from a Champions' League group containing Barcelona and Bayern Munich, they now face Internazionale of Milan, featuring one Ronaldo Luiz Nazario de Lima, in the quarter-finals in March.

As the winners of Group C, Inter will stage the second leg at San Siro on 17 March, after visiting Old Trafford for the first time in a competitive encounter on 3 March. Chelsea, Britain's only other remaining European representative, have Scandinavian opposition to overcome for the third time in defence of the Cup-Winners' Cup when they play Valerenga at Stamford Bridge on 4 March, with the second leg in Oslo a fortnight later.

On paper at least, the task for Manchester United could hardly be tougher. Having drawn all four games against the Spanish and German giants, United know they will have to go one better against a club that lives up to its name with a squad that reads like a who's who of world football. Barring injury or illness, the game at Old Trafford will be Ronaldo's first in this country since scoring for Brazil against England at Wembley in the 1995 Umbro Cup tournament.

Alongside him in attack is the French World Cup winner Youri Djorkaeff, while Roberto Baggio is a more than adequate reserve; Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole will have to find a way past the Nigerian Taribo West before they can test Italy's World Cup goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca; and, to add further spice to the tie, in midfield there is Diego Simeone, the Argentinian captain who was involved in the incident that led to United's David Beckham being sent off in the World Cup match in St-Etienne.

United can point to Inter's indifferent league form that prompted the appointment of a new coach, Mircea Lucescu, at the start of this month and, while it is 30 years since United's one and only European Cup triumph, Inter have to go back even further to 1965 for the second of their two consecutive titles. Also in United's favour is that the Italians are scheduled to meet Juventus the weekend before the first leg and Milan just before the second.

"It's a tough draw and it's a great draw in one sense because of Inter Milan's reputation," Martin Edwards, United's chief executive, said.

"They have arguably the world's best player in Ronaldo, but every team in the last eight is going to cause you problems. It's going to be tough, and it really is an exciting prospect."

The Inter vice-president, Giannaria Visconte, concurred. "I agree this is the most glamorous match of the draw and I believe one of the two clubs will reach the final," he said. "Our president, Massimo Moratti, will be very happy to face Manchester United. He's always been a fan of the Red Devils. It's just a shame that Eric Cantona is not playing any more and so cannot take part in these matches."

Meanwhile, the holders, Real Madrid, meet the dark horses, Dynamo Kiev, who will be hoping that talk of the sale of their strikers Andriy Shevchenko and Serhiy Rebrov during the Ukrainian winter break remains nothing more than speculation.

Juventus, the 1996 winners, have been installed as favourites and will fancy their chances of a fourth final in a row after being drawn against the Greek outsiders, Olympiakos, and there is an all-German quarter-final for the second season running between the Bundesliga champions, Kaiserslautern, and the current league leaders and three-times European champions, Bayern Munich.

Chelsea, having already beaten Helsingborg of Sweden and FC Copenhagen in earlier rounds, must now get past the Norwegian Cup holders to keep alive hopes of winning the last ever Cup-Winners' Cup competition. They have fond memories of Scandinavia, having won the trophy in Stockholm earlier this year with a 1-0 victory over VfB Stuttgart, but Gianluca Vialli's men will be less keen for a repeat of their last trip to Norway, when they faced Tromso in sub-zero temperatures on a snow-covered pitch.

Nevertheless, Chelsea will be happy to have avoided the favourites, Lazio, who have the Chilean striker Marcelo Salas among their expensively- assembled squad. The mouth-watering prospect of a May final at Villa Park against the Italian Cup holders, who meet Panionios of Athens, remains a distinct possibility.

The Uefa Cup has become an exclusively Latin affair, involving clubs from just three countries. Atletico Madrid's tie with Roma, featuring the Brazilian internationals Juninho, Cafu and Aldair, will capture the imagination, but the eventual winner is just as likely to come from the meeting between a resurgent Marseilles, spearheaded by Fabrizio Ravanelli and captained by Laurent Blanc, and the Spaniards, Celta Vigo, who saw off both Aston Villa and Liverpool in such impressive style.



Real Madrid (Sp) v Dynamo Kiev (Ukr)

Manchester Utd v Internazionale (It)

Juventus (It) v Olympiakos Piraeus (Gr)

Bayern Munich (Ger) v Kaiserslautern (Ger)

Ties to be played 3 and 17 March


Chelsea v Valerenga (Nor)

Lokomotiv Moscow v Maccabi Haifa (Isr)

Varteks Varazdin (Croa) v Mallorca (Sp)

Lazio (It) v Panionios (Gr)

Ties to be played 4 and 18 March


Marseilles (Fr) v Celta Vigo (Sp)

Bologna (It) v Lyons (Fr)

Bordeaux (Fr) v Parma (It)

Atletico Madrid (Sp) v Roma (It)

Ties to be played 2 and 16 March.