Football: Operation Europe - Phil Gordon maps out the possible pitfalls for British clubs

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The Independent Online
CHAMPIONS' LEAGUE

FIORENTINA V ARSENAL

THERE are two Gabriel Batistutas in Florence, but soon there may be none. The Argentinian idol (whose statue erected by the tifosi sits behind one of the goals) has said he's ready to move. "I have been here for a long while, but I have never won a championship," said the man who once interested Manchester United and, of course, Arsenal. Goalkeeper Francesco Toldo wants to go nowhere. Fiorentina want to sell him to Lazio but he insists: "My heart is here and I want to stay beyond my contract in 2004."

MANCHESTER UNITED V CROATIA ZAGREB

ALEX FERGUSON, renowned for pressuring referees, is a pussycat in comparison to Croatia Zagreb president Franjo Tudjman, who has been accused of rigging his team's title success. Tudjman, whose day job is president of Croatia (the country), gave an unstatesmanlike shout of "There is a God" when rivals Rijeka mysteriously had a goal chalked off on the final day of the season. Zagreb beat Celtic last season and new coach Ossie Ardiles will be pinning his hopes on Robert Prosinecki giving United a kick in "the Tottinghams" the way Ardiles once did.

CHELSEA V MILAN

CHELSEA may be big spenders, but Milan have been there, done that and bought the T-shirt. Ukrainian Andriy Shevchenko will be pounds 15m well spent if he shows his Dynamo Kiev form alongside George Weah and Oliver Bierhoff. Serginho (pounds 8m) could play as Paolo Maldini is nursing a toe injury. Ex- Rangers midfielder Rino Gattuso (pounds 7m) makes Dennis Wise look like a dilettante.

VALENCIA V RANGERS

HECTOR CUPER must be wondering if it was wise to give up his cushy number with Real Mallorca. Two defeats in the opening two games had the local press sharpening their axes. "There is little patience in Spanish football," sighed Cuper, "you can get sacked any time." The Argentinian coach will hope his compatriot the gifted Claudio Lopez can combine with the Romanian Adrian Ilie to give Rangers a hot night in Valencia.

UEFA CUP

PARTIZAN BELGRADE V LEEDS UNITED

THEY should have played this on the moon, but Holland got the short straw. The Dutch police will have more security in Heerenveen for the two of Europe's more notorious sets of fans than at the Lockerbie bombing trial. Partizan's thugs graduated from terrace menace to become brutal Serbian militia and wreaked havoc on Belgrade before Nato planes did, in a vicious derby battle with rival Red Star fans in March. Young striker Mateja Kezman is a target of Italian clubs.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR V ZIMBRU CHISINAU

WHITE Hart Lane has been filled with European Glory, Glory nights over the decades but this is likely to be more Moldovan Cabernet Sauvignon than champagne. Zimbru won a seventh championship but will possess little threat, although 22-year-old playmaker Serghei Epureanu and striker Vladislav Gavriliuc will need watching.

WEST HAM V NK OSIJEK

A NIGHT in the East End will not scare Osijek's fans too much - any Hammers' lager boys will be a picnic compared to the town which saw "real" action during the conflict with the Serbs. It's just a pity that their Gunner will be out of town: the Osijek old boy Davor Suker will be away on Champions' League duty with Arsenal. Osijek qualified for the Uefa Cup by winning the Croatian Cup and possess a clever striker in Goran Bubalo.

CSKA SOFIA V NEWCASTLE UNITED

LUBO PENEV - who helped Celta Vigo dump out Aston Villa and Liverpool last season - has gone back to CSKA but Newcastle can relax: Penev, 32, left a lucrative career in Spain when he had a landslide victory in CSKA's poll for a new president. These days CSKA sell their best players - such as teenager Stilian Petrov to Celtic - and rely on old stagers such as one-time Ipswich striker Boncho Genchev.

CELTIC V HAPOEL TEL AVIV

JOHN BARNES has already said he will do without Eyal Berkovic's tips about his countrymen because "knowing Eyal, it will be dud information". But Israel - en route to a Euro 2000 play-off - are on the up. Hapoel Haifa knocked Turkish giants Besiktas out of the Champions' League last month, and striker Shalom Tikva will be the main danger.

MONACO V ST JOHNSTONE

FEW people sneak anything past Fabien Barthez, but crooks have upset the French World Cup goalkeeper by stealing pounds 70,000 worth of jewellery from his apartment. Barthez is one of a host of Monaco stars, who include Italian striker Marco Simone, France's David Trezeguet (the man who sank Man Utd) and Argentinian Marcelo Gallardo. Saints? Well, everyone has heard of Roddy Grant, haven't they?

KAISERSLAUTERN V KILMARNOCK

The 1997 Bundesliga champions are in a state of civil unrest as they await Kilmarnock. Club captain Ciriaco Sforza has been told that he can find a new club following his criticisms of coach Otto Rehhagel. The Swiss playmaker's nose has been out of joint since the arrival of France's Youri Djorkaeff, who had previously usurped Sforza at Internazionale.

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