Football: Leeds confident that the force is with them

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The Independent Online
Leeds United and Stuttgart will complete their own uphill marathon close by the toughest Olympic course of all tonight, and sod's law dictates that the match nobody wanted will probably be the best of the three.

The neutral Nou Camp will be virtually deserted, with 100,000 of its 120,000 spaces empty, but the lack of atmosphere is unlikely to extend to the pitch, where both teams will go about their work with a sense of grievance, believing that they should already be safely installed in the second round of the European Cup.

Stuttgart feel that they proved their superiority over two legs, and that their breach of the rules which necessitated the third game amounted to little more than a technicality. Leeds insist that the German champions should have been thrown out of the competition for fielding a fourth, ineligible foreign player at Elland Road last week.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of Uefa's contentious decision to play it again, the situation has created a feeling bordering on animosity between the two sides, each of whom believe the others are here at their expense.

Well matched may seem a strange description, three goals having separated them in each of their first two games, but they were level on aggregate after three hours, and it would be no surprise if extra time, or even penalties, were needed to separate them here tonight.

They know each other well now: Leeds fully aware of the damage the incisive Ludwig Kogl can do to their flimsy right flank, Stuttgart wary of the match-winning potential of Gary McAllister and Gary Speed in midfield. Both managers accept that their respective defences, each of which conceded four goals at the weekend, are their Achilles' heel.

There is a feeling here, shared by the non-committed, that the force is with Leeds. As Lee Chapman put it, they are the ones who thought they were out, theirs has been the reprieve, and it is Stuttgart who have the unenviable task of winning through a second time against opponents who appeared to have their measure last week.

Howard Wilkinson, the Leeds manager, said last night: 'Under normal circumstances, playing at a neutral venue would be the same for both sides, but over the last few days there has been a considerable amount of goodwill shown towards us internationally, and there are historic reasons why Catalonia should be on England's side.

'We have been amazed by the support we have received, from all over the place. In Italy, for example, their leading sports paper (Gazzetta dello Sport) has criticised the decision to replay the tie, and called Uefa the German mafia.

'The feeling among my players is such that motivating them for this game will not be difficult. Last Wednesday they thought they were out on the away goals rule, no argument. I told them then that they could have regrets, but no complaints, and they accepted that. It was 24 hours later that they found their opponents couldn't abide by the rules, and that has annoyed them. They didn't like the fact that while they had accepted their fate with good grace, the opposite was true when the boot was on the other foot.

'When the other team broke the rules, the same attitude did not apply.'

It was beginning to sound suspiciously like a grudge match - an impression Wilkinson did nothing to refute.

Leeds beat Stuttgart in the Makita tournament in pre-season, and again at Elland Road last Wednesday, and their manager added: 'We know their strengths, we know ours, and we fancy ourselves a little bit. We take the view that once the game starts there is no politics, no committees and no discussion on the pitch. Sport is truth.'

Leeds have Rod Wallace fit again after the hamstring injury which prevented him from playing for England against Spain four weeks ago, but are expected to be unchanged.

Stuttgart have suffered unprecedented embarrassment since sending on their illicit foreigner, Jovo Simanic, last week, and the jokes (What is the difference between Stuttgart and the Bundesbank? Stuttgart have more foreign reserves) are beginning to wear a bit thin.

Dieter Hoeness, their general manager, was in prickly mood when the German media enquired whether he intended to play four foreigners again tonight, and snapped: 'I don't understand that at all. What can I say when I look at how the English press has fought for Leeds after the Uefa decision, and how we have been branded the lucky souls of the nation.'

Eike Immel, Stuttgart's German international goalkeeper, took a more sanguine view. 'We have been given a sporting chance, and we intend to take it,' he said. 'We have been through heaven and hell. Now, we are somewhere in between.'

Limbo is no place for winners, and while the consensus suggests it is too close to call, the smart money is on Leeds to meet Rangers in the second round, in two weeks' time.

Leeds United (probable): Lukic; Sellars, Dorigo, Batty, Fairclough, Whyte, Strachan, Cantona, Chapman, McAllister, Speed.

VfB Stuttgart: Immel; Schafer, Frontzeck, Dubajic, Strunz, Buchwald, Buck, Sverrisson, Walter, Gaudino, Kogl.