Football: Keegan joins the United fan club

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THE FEELING that the bulk of the country's football supporters will suspend hostilities to cheer on Manchester United in tomorrow's European Cup final was given physical expression last night as they arrived in Barcelona on one national symbol, while another offered paeans of praise.

As the Double winners flew to Spain on Concorde, Kevin Keegan, a European Cup winner himself with Liverpool in 1977, paid tribute to the United players and urged fans to get behind them. "I had mixed feelings on Saturday with them playing Newcastle, but I desperately want them to win all three trophies now," said the England coach. "I can't stand this idea that some people don't want to see an English team win in Europe because it is United."

While it is his patriotism which prompts Keegan's appeal, he will obviously benefit from the confidence factor if United, who could supply half his team for the forthcoming European Championship qualifiers against Sweden and Bulgaria, win. Already he hopes to benefit from Teddy Sheringham's revival.

"There is no doubt in my mind now that Teddy could play a part for England," said Keegan, who will announce his squad on Friday. "He is definitely in my thoughts because of the way he is playing for his club. I couldn't pick him earlier because he was not playing regularly."

David Beckham's Wembley performance in central midfield also cheered Keegan. "I have always said he will end up playing there but, if myself and Alex Ferguson are waiting for a better crosser of the ball to come along, we won't find one. He's the sort of player you need two of, one to go right wing and one to play inside. If they ever start cloning footballers he'll be the first one to send to the laboratory."

One player United would love to clone immediately, because it would solve the problem of replacing him, is Peter Schmeichel. Yesterday he was insistent that, despite the entreaties of team-mates and fans, he was still leaving.

"I will miss it but I have made my mind up," the Danish goalkeeper said. "I will try not to think about it being my last game, I will just go about it as normal. We've been trying for years to get to this point and my situation is just a coincidence. I think it was inevitable that we were going to reach a European Cup final at some point, I'm just happy it has happened in my time."

Meanwhile Ottmar Hitzfeld, the coach of United's opponents, Bayern Munich, began the pre-match psychological battle by suggesting that United's defence was their weak link. "They are a very compact team, strong going forward, but vulnerable at the back. We must push them into making mistakes," he said.

However, Hitzfeld has his own defensive concerns and yesterday he experimented in training with playing the central defender Markus Babbel at right wing- back, in a plan to neutralise Ryan Giggs.

There is concern over off-field security, with many of the tickets sold to Barcelona members now apparently in the hands of German or English fans, or touts. The match itself should be strictly controlled, though. Pierluigi Collina, the Italian referee who sent off Paul Ince in Sweden in September, will be in charge.

Football news, page 27