Football: Repeat show for `Battle of Britain'

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The Independent Online
The primordial passions stirred by meetings of major English and Scottish clubs are such that even a Champions' League draw which pairs Manchester United with Juventus, not to mention Newcastle with Barcelona, was overshadowed yesterday by the Uefa Cup collision of Celtic and Liverpool.

The tie was immediately, and predictably, dubbed the Battle of Britain, recalling epic European Cup victories by Celtic and Rangers over Leeds in 1970 and '92 respectively. But Celtic and Liverpool have their own history, dating back to a Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final that pitted Jock Stein's managerial wiles against those of Bill Shankly in 1966.

As they will be next month, Celtic were at home in the first leg, winning 1-0 before 80,000 spectators. Five days later, thousands of Scots descended on Anfield, some reportedly bowing down in the streets before the green and white buses.

Liverpool won 2-0, but a disallowed "goal" sparked bottle-throwing from Celtic's fans in a 54,000 crowd. Tommy Law-rence, Shankly's goalkeeper, was said to have made pounds 200 on the empties. This time, Liverpool may be unable to accommodate Celtic's supporters due to construction work on the Anfield Road End.

It was from Celtic, of course, that Liverpool prised Kenny Dalglish. And it was to Parkhead, for a match in aid of the victims of Hillsborough, that Dalglish took Liverpool two weeks after the disaster of 1989.

Now, in what traditionalists may regard as an excessive reward for guiding Newcastle to the runners-up spot, he can anticipate Champions' League group games against Barcelona, PSV Eindhoven and Dynamo Kiev. The meeting of Geordie and Catalan nations, as Sir John Hall would have it, is first up at St James' Park.

Newcastle's chief executive, Freddie Fletcher, spoke for Tyneside when he said: "Barcelona have that special, sexy reputation. When you think that we were fighting relegation [to the old Third Division] five years ago, this is all very exceptional."

For Manchester United, a double re-match with Juventus, who beat them 1-0 at home and away last autumn, offers the opportunity to show what they have learned in Europe.

"Our performance against Juventus at Old Trafford was very good and in the second half we were exceptional," Ferguson said. "If the luck goes for us, who knows? But the whole thing could come down to when we go to Turin.

"We've got Juventus at home in the second game this time and if we get a result, that will breed confidence. We know now that we don't have to be afraid of them."

The trip to Feyenoord takes United back to Rotterdam, where they lifted the Cup-Winners' Cup in 1991. But given the reputation for violence of the Dutch club's followers, and the fact that England and Tottenham fans have rioted at the stadium, the fixture also raises security concerns.

First, though, United head into what for Ferguson is uncharted territory, Slovakia, to tackle a Kosice side beaten by a single, late Celtic goal over two legs a year ago.

In the Uefa Cup, where the English quartet are all at home in the second leg, Leicester's tussle with Atletico Madrid also provides a chance to settle a score from the Sixties. The tie brings Juninho back to Filbert Street, where the Brazilian scored for Middlesbrough in March.

In Leicester's only previous Continental campaign, 36 years ago, they lost 3-1 on aggregate to Atletico. This time, Martin O'Neill's managerial rival will be Raddy Antic, who was once with Luton but now works on a somewhat larger transfer budget than the Coca-Cola Cup winners.

Apart from Juninho, who cost pounds 11m, the Yugoslav paid pounds 12.5m for the Juventus striker Christian Vieri. O'Neill is constantly seeking to lower expectations; in contrast, Antic's notoriously intolerant president, Jesus Gil, expects Atletico to be closer to the double-winning standards of '96 than to last season's fifth place.

Arsenal's main problem against PAOK Salonika is likely to be how they transport Dennis Bergkamp - who has a phobia about flying - to Greece. Aston Villa play Bordeaux hopeful that England's long-established superiority in cross-channel confrontations - shattered by the defeats of Newcastle and Liverpool by Monaco and Paris St-Germain last spring - still counts for something.

Rangers also visit France and may at last find, in Strasbourg, opposition more to their liking following their European Cup demise. Meanwhile, Chelsea's bid to improve on a run to the Cup-Winners' Cup semi-finals two years ago should enjoy a winning launch against another Slovakian outfit, Slovan Bratislava. Ruud Gullit promises a less British, more "tactical and technical" approach.

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