Football: Newcastle's French test

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The Independent Online
Faustino Asprilla's decision to hoist the flag might have been as premature as it was costly. Having struggled to dispose of Metz in the last round of the Uefa Cup, the last thing Newcastle United wanted was another French club in the quarter-finals, but fate was far from kind when the draw was made in Geneva yesterday.

While Liverpool could approach the prospect of the Norwegian club, SK Brann, in the last eight of the European Cup-Winners' Cup with some confidence, Newcastle were paired with the French First Division leaders, Monaco, in a tie their manager Kevin Keegan described "as tough as they come".

Two goals from Asprilla at St James' Park saw off Metz, who deserved better than a 3-1 aggregate defeat, but the booking he got for flying his shirt on a corner post in celebration ensures he will miss the first leg of the quarter-final on Tyneside on 4 March . Monaco, who include the Scotland and former Celtic midfield player, John Collins, beat Arsenal's conquerors, Borussia Monchengladbach, in the second round, which is enough to lower anyone's colours.

"They are one of the top two sides in France and this tie is as tough as they come," Keegan said. "They have good experience in Europe, great players, and beat Hamburg quite convincingly in the last round. We'll need to play better at home than we did against the Metz and we know we can do that. If we play the way we are capable of, we can go all the way.

"You must believe you can beat anyone. Having the first game at home makes it slightly tougher for us, but we'll be looking to take a lead out there. We can put Europe on the back burner now until March, but it's something for us to look forward to and a fantastic tie in terms of interest."

By contrast, Liverpool could hardly have picked better opponents to face on 6 and 20 March. Barcelona, Fiorentina, Paris St-Germain and Benfica went into the hat as well. But they were paired with Brann, of Bergen, who entered the Cup-Winners' Cup, having lost their domestic final to Rosenborg.

Brann defeated PSV Eindhoven in the last round but are described, even by Norwegians, as ordinary. Then again, there was nothing remarkable about the Danes of Brondby last season and they defeated Liverpool in the Uefa Cup.

"We're reasonably pleased," Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager, said. "At least we've avoided the bigger teams. But there's been a big improvement in Scandinavian football over the last few years and we always find them to be organised, strong, fit and difficult to beat."


Benfica (Por) v Fiorentina (It)

Paris St-Germain (Fr) v AEK Athens (Gr)

SK Brann (Nor) v Liverpool

Barcelona (Sp) v AIK Stockholm (Swe)

First-leg ties to be played Thursday 6 March; second leg Thursday 20 March


Newcastle United v Monaco (Fr)

Tenerife (Sp) v Brondby (Den)

Schalke 04 (Ger) v Valencia (Sp)

Anderlecht (Bel) v Internazionale (It)

First-leg ties to be played Tuesday 4 March, second leg Tuesday 18 March.