Football: Muller holds few hopes for Metz in Newcastle

The French are not expecting a Uefa Cup comeback. Simon Turnbull reports
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The Independent Online
Sylviane Pierron leaned across the bar of Le Barca, the brasserie built into the main stand of the Stade Saint- Symphorien. "If we win in Newcastle," she said, "maybe we will change our name. `The Magpie' perhaps."

The Magpies having flown from the home nest of FC Metz with a 1-1 draw from the first leg of their Uefa Cup third round tie, the feeling left behind in the regional capital of Lorraine was that Kevin Keegan and his Newcastle United team had all but snatched a quarter-final place.

"We only have a 10 per cent chance," Joel Muller, the Metz coach, said. "I don't think it is possible for us to win in Newcastle, but we hope, we dream."

Mme Pierron was not dreaming when she told how Metz overcame even greater odds, and the mighty Barcelona after losing 4-2 in the Saint- Symphorien. Their 4-1 victory in the Nou Camp stands in the record books.

"The French television stations did not even bother going to Spain," Mme Pierron recalled of that Cup-Winners' Cup tie in 1984. "Everyone said Metz had no chance but this brasserie was named to remind the world that we did it."

St James' Park may not be quite so intimidating as the Nou Camp but Newcastle have only once failed to beat a Continental side there in a European tie. That, ironically, was in 1977, when Bastia recorded the most recent two- legged success by a French club against English opponents.

Keegan, before heading home, pointed to more recent history in an effort to discourage too much pre-hatched chicken counting on Tyneside. "Metz won 3-2 in Auxerre only the week before last," the Newcastle manager said. "They are a very good away team. This tie is still wide open."

It could yet be turned against Newcastle by Robert Pires, the rising young star of French football, who is keen to join the growing Gallic contingent in England's Premiership and will see his trip to Tyneside as an opportunity to place himself in the shop window. It is understood that the roving forward has already been offered to Newcastle, who - with their embarrassment of attacking riches - apparently failed to show interest.

Muller may well be forced to lose his most saleable asset when Metz depart from the Uefa Cup, but in the early hours yesterday he was more concerned with the task confronting his team in the return leg on 3 December.

"I was surprised by the strength of Newcastle's defence," he admitted. "But with Shearer they are another team again. They have even more possibilities."

The second leg will be match number four on Alan Shearer's comeback schedule, assuming he returns to action at Stamford Bridge on Saturday. And Muller had no need to consult the record books to recall that the pounds 15m man's first goal in international football was scored, on his England debut four years ago, at the expense of France.

Perhaps it is just as well that the Metz coach played for Dunkirk in his younger days. His side will need a French variation of the Dunkirk spirit in the Toon Army's fortress on Tuesday week.