Football: Orient can exploit their Cantona connection

GALLIC FLAIR tends not to be a factor in the Third Division play- off final, but the French connection personified by two former colleagues of Eric Cantona could decide whether Leyton Orient or Scunthorpe United gain promotion at Wembley today.

At 37, Amara Simba returns to the stage on which he last appeared for France against England in the 1992 match which marked Alan Shearer's international debut. The artful Paris-born striker has scored 10 goals since Orient's manager, Tommy Taylor, signed him from the Mexican club Leon in October.

Jamie Forrester, 13 years his junior, attracted controversy when Auxerre recruited him straight from the FA National School. He was plunged into a French Cup tie at 16 yet became homesick and joined Leeds, making his debut when they were champions as well as partnering Robbie Fowler in the England Under-18s' attack. But he reached Scunthorpe on a free transfer from Grimsby before reviving his career with 20 goals this season.

Whereas Simba partnered Cantona for Les Bleus, Forrester understudied him at Leeds. In his last final, he scored with a spectacular overhead kick in the Youth Cup defeat of a Manchester United side featuring Messrs Beckham, Butt, Scholes and both Nevilles.

Fate now pits the veteran gunslinger and the precocious sharpshooter against each other. Helping supply the ammunition will be Orient's Martin Ling, who helped Swindon reach the Premiership in an epic play-off final six years ago, and Scunthorpe's Spanish midfielder Alexander Calvo-Garcia.

Taylor and his opposite number, Brian Laws, know the pressures of performing at Wembley from their days with West Ham and Nottingham Forest respectively. The east London club will have the backing of two-thirds of the anticipated 40,000 crowd, but the precedents point to their opponents.

The last seven Third Division finals have been won by the side finishing immediately behind the automatic promotion places. This season that was Scunthorpe, who have been stuck in the bottom section since 1984.

Orient, remarkably, are Wembley-bound for the first time since 1930 when their name bore the Clapton prefix. They staged two Third Division (South) fixtures there while ground improvements were carried out at Lea Bridge Road, drawing an aggregate of just 10,200 spectators but emerging with a 100 per cent record in the national stadium.

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