Football: Middlesbrough close in on Branca

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The Independent Online
THE Middlesbrough manager, Bryan Robson, is expected in Milan today to complete the pounds 1.15m signing of the Internazionale striker, Marco Branca. Boro have agreed a two-and-a-half-year deal with Branca worth pounds 2.3m.

Branca, who turned 33 last month and was enjoying a weekend break in Sardinia, will join his former Inter team-mate, Gianluca Festa. He joined Inter in 1995 from Roma and, despite scoring 17 goals in 24 games, he has been unable to command a regular first-team place this season, usually losing out to the Frenchman, Youri Djorkaeff.

Boro's former Stockport County striker, Alun Armstrong, will not be able to make his debut in the Coca-Cola Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool on Wednesday, as he is Cup-tied. The 22-year-old completed his pounds 1.6m move a few hours before kick-off on Saturday.

Liverpool have offered their full support to Robbie Fowler following reports that he is being blackmailed. The 22-year-old is reported to have been sent several demands for money by people claiming they have seen him taking drugs - though the England striker insists he has never taken any.

Liverpool have yet to speak to Fowler but say they will do anything to help. A club statement said: "We were very surprised to see the story in this morning's paper but until we have had the opportunity to sit down and discuss the matter with Robbie, Liverpool Football Club are not in a position to comment. If however the player has been subjected to this sort of harassment the club will be as supportive of him as we can."

Fowler was quoted in a Sunday newspaper as saying: "These people are ruining my life. It's really getting to me. It's absolutely ridiculous ... they are hurting my family. My parents and my sister are hearing that I'm supposed to be wandering around like a zombie, drugged up to the eyeballs. They don't believe it of course, but it still upsets them... and I find that difficult to deal with."

l England were beaten 3-2 by France in a women's friendly international in Alencon yesterday. Marinette Pischon put the hosts ahead five minutes before the break but Croydon's Kerry Davis scored an equaliser 10 minutes into the second half. Pischon put France back in front a minute later and, although Everton's Karen Burke equalised in the 78th minute, Hoda Lattaf headed the winner eight minutes from time.