Football: Neville facing surgery threat

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GARY NEVILLE was last night facing the prospect of an operation as Manchester United's injury crisis threatened their defence of the Premiership and European crown.

Neville tore groin muscles during England's 0-0 draw in Poland and will be out of action for at least a month, leaving United without six first- team squad members. Neville, troubled by the injury during the summer, only returned to action recently and now may need an operation to repair the damage.

United's captain, Roy Keane, and the full-back Denis Irwin also returned from international duty with the Republic of Ireland carrying injuries and their club manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, said: "This is a real disappointment. Defence is now a problem for us."

The other United absentees are Ronny Johnsen, Wes Brown and David May, who all have knee injuries and United will try to have Mickael Silvestre, their new French Under-21 defender, ready for action quickly. But he is unlikely to be able to face Liverpool.

One club manager who will be delighted with the international week is Middlesbrough's Bryan Robson, whose midfielder Christian Ziege scored a hat-trick in Germany's 4-0 rout of Northern Ireland in Dortmund to end a personal nightmare that saw him abused by Milan fans and German critics.

Ziege, signed by Boro from Milan, credits Robson with saving his career. "The most important thing for me over the past two months has been trust. Bryan Robson showed that trust when he bought me," he said.

Robson did have one disappointment yesterday. Ibrahim Ba, the French international, confirmed he would not follow Ziege from Milan to Teesside.

Partizan Belgrade would rather play both legs of their Uefa Cup tie against Leeds United at Elland Road than visit Heerenveen for their "home" leg. The decision by European football's governing body, Uefa, to switch the match to the Dutch town next Tuesday has upset Partizan. "We are now pressed for time to obtain Dutch visas and will probably be booted out of the competition if we are denied for some reason," said an angry Partizan director Slobodan Novakovic.

Bradford City have completed the signing of the Paris St-Germain striker Bruno Rodriguez on loan until the end of the season, for an initial fee of pounds 500,000, while Everton have unveiled their latest signing, the pounds 1.5m Portuguese international defender, Abel Xavier, from PSV Eindhoven.