Football: Osijek overwhelmed by flair of Di Canio

West Ham United 3 Osijek 0
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The Independent Online
CUTTING THE summer holidays short to play FC Jokerit in the Intertoto Cup may not have seemed much fun at the time, but West Ham's decision to earn a first-ever Uefa Cup place the hard way was looking far more worthwhile last night. An emphatic victory over little-known opponents, who nevertheless stand third in the Croatian league, was no less than the London side deserved for a performance that was fit to begin a new chapter in the club's European history.

Only after a three-goal lead had been established inside an hour by Paulo Wanchope, Paolo Di Canio and Frank Lampard did concentration slacken, which might have brought an away goal to give Osijek more realistic hope for the second leg.

However tortuous the journey to the small town near the Yugoslav border may prove in a fortnight's time, it will be no more so than the road West Ham have followed thus far, via Finland, the Netherlands and France. Despite interfering with pre-season preparations, those matches appear to have had a beneficial effect, and it has been in their few Premiership games that injuries have occurred, notably to the defenders Ian and Stuart Pearce, Rio Ferdinand and Scott Minto.

That meant another chance last night for the Chilean Javier Margas, who showed an awareness of the historic nature of the occasion by dyeing his hair claret and blue. Any suggestion of party spirit was soon dispelled by the vigour of the challenges - two of which brought yellow cards for John Moncur and Steve Potts - but no team including Wanchope and Di Canio can be expected to forsake party tricks altogether.

The Italian was as irrepressible as he had been against Watford last Saturday. How sick Sheffield Wednesday must be of hearing Harry Redknapp singing his praises: "He just sees things other players don't" was the manager's tribute last night.

Those words applied, in particular, to the first goal at a perfect time, just before the interval. Thirty yards out, Di Canio lifted a free-kick forward by placing his foot under the ball, Margas's claret-and-blue head propelled it past Mario Galinovic and Wanchope stole the goal from a matter of inches.

Prevented from reaching the dressing-room with the benefit of a clean sheet to encourage them, Osijek fell victim to two aberrations by the goalkeeper in the first three minutes of the second half. Having saved well from Trevor Sinclair's volley - set up by another innovative Di Canio free-kick - he dropped Lomas's long throw and had to be rescued by a defender. Possibly unnerved as the noise from the large crowd redoubled, Galinovic then chose completely the wrong angle for a side-footed clearance, which went straight to Di Canio. The Italian calmly side-stepped him and provided a lesson in geometry with a precise shot into the far corner of the net - both cute and acute. The angles were just right again in the 58th minute as Sinclair sent Lampard in for a thumping finish and an invaluable three- goal margin.

West Ham United (3-5-2): Hislop; Potts, Stimac, Margas; Sinclair, Lomas, Lampard, Moncur (Foe, 88), Keller; Di Canio (Kitson, 85), Wanchope. Substitutes not used: Carrick, Etherington, Forbes, Newton, Forrest (gk).

Osijek (3-5-2): Galinovic; Zebic, Beljan, Besirevic (Balatinac, 78); Gaspar, Vranjes, Ergovic, Vuica, Babic; Bubalo (Turkovic, 80), Prisc (Mitu, 57). Substitutes not used: Grnja, Zrilic, Ostopanj, Malovan (gk).

Referee: J Paraty Silva (Portugal).