Football: No room for sentiment as Schmeichel faces friends

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The Independent Online
IT SEEMED like a good idea when Brondby booked Manchester United for a pre-season friendly. Especially when United's Danish support swelled the crowd to 28,000, three times Brondby's average league gate, to provide a cash windfall.

It does not seem such a good idea now. For United won 6-0 and, while friendlies are never a true barometer, such a huge victory is bound to leave a lasting impression.

Though Ebbe Skovdahl, Brondby's coach and uncle to Brian and Michael Laudrup, insisted: "I would-n't read too much into that result, there wasn't that big a difference between the sides," he admitted the match had strengthened his players' belief that United are impregnable when Peter Schmeichel is in goal.

Schmeichel, a former Brondby player, has legendary status in his home country and Skovdahl added: "You could see that my players treat him as an idol. They think he is unbeatable and that creates psychological problems. Even when they had clear chances they thought they had to try something really special to beat him."

The goalkeeper's fame was evident as soon as the team arrived at their Copenhagen hotel. While the likes of Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane and Andy Cole strolled past undisturbed, Schmeichel was engulfed by the Danish media. When a portrait of Danish royals was spotted on the wall he was filmed next to it.

Schmeichel has not played since his injury-time error handed Bayern Munich a point in United's last Champions' League tie. He has a stomach muscle injury which, said Skovdahl optimistically, "is a very difficult area to treat. If he comes back too soon and aggravates the problem it could have serious consequences".

The player regards himself as "98 per cent fit" and expects to play unless he suffers an adverse reaction to last night's training session.

"Only kicking is a problem and I can always get Jaap Stam to take the goal-kicks," he added. "I've had the injury since the World Cup and it is agony kicking a ball in the latter stages of a game but it was not the reason for the mistake in Munich. It was simply a bad decision. I ran straight into Jaap. If it had been any other player I would have knocked him to the floor and taken the ball, but he's built like a rock.

"It is very important we beat Brondby home and away. At this level there is no room for sentiment. Coming back to Copenhagen does not mean anything to me, it is just like going to Munich or Barcelona. I have to remain professional and regard it as simply another match."

No chance, then, of Brondby sneaking a ball through Schmeichel's guard, like Eric Hollies bowling Don Bradman, while his eyes are still brimful of tears at his reception.

Yet for all the attention on Schmeichel it is United's attack which carries the responsibility tonight. Another draw is of little use and, despite the pre-season romp, a win will be hard-earned. Three years ago Brondby knocked Liverpool out of Europe by winning at Anfield and already this season have defeated Bayern Munich, albeit fortuitously.

"I'm expecting a hard game. Brondby have a lot of European experience and will be hard to beat," said Alex Ferguson. "They'll be very fired up, Scandinavian sides always raise their game against English ones," added Jesper Blomqvist, speaking from personal experience with Gothenburg.

United have six players out. David Beckham and Nicky Butt are suspended while Teddy Sheringham, Denis Irwin, Ronny Johnsen and David May are injured. In defence Henning Berg could come in but Wes Brown's temperament was praised by Ferguson and he is more likely to play at right-back. In attack Cole and Dwight Yorke, whose partnership has produced five goals in the last two games, will continue.

The problem is in midfield where Ferguson has no obvious replacement for Beckham on the right. Candidates include left-footers Giggs and Blomqvist, or Paul Scholes. The latter is most likely with Giggs playing in the centre and Blomqvist on the left.

Brondby who, like United, won 5-1 at the weekend, will be without John Jensen. The former Arsenal midfielder, whose purchase was central to George Graham's fall, is suspended after being booked for diving in the penalty area in the defeat at Barcelona. Brondby are still likely to field 11 Danes but only five of them are internationals.

Ferguson hopes Bayern Munich beat Barcelona in tonight's other Group D match to condense an already tight group. First United must win. With Danish football at a low ebb they start favourites but, in the city that commemorates the memory of Hans Christian Andersen, and the ground in which Wales beat Denmark, anything is possible.

Manchester United (probable) (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Brown, G Neville, Stam, P Neville; Scholes, Giggs, Keane, Blomqvist; Yorke, Cole.

Brondby (probable) (4-4-2): Krogh; Colding, Rasmussen, Nielsen, B Jensen; Bjur, Daugaard, Ravn, Lindrup; Bo Hansen, Sand.

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