Football: Respite for English: Phil Shaw warns of premature rejoicing over four Premiership teams' European success

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The Independent Online
THE RELIEF, bordering on rapture in sections of the media, which greeted the advance of all four English clubs to today's draw for the second round of the three European trophies was a sure sign of changing times.

Manchester United, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Norwich City, while hardly evoking memories of England's dominance of the Continental scene in the Seventies and early Eighties, each accounted for opponents with a respectable European pedigree. Recent history, however, shows that the real test will start with the next round later this month.

Last autumn's lemming-like exit - United falling straightaway, followed within weeks by Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield Wednesday - exposed as a false dawn Alex Ferguson's achievement in bringing the Cup-Winners' Cup to Old Trafford in the first year after the post-Heysel ban was lifted.

Indeed, since re-entry in 1990, seven out of nine English Euro-campaigns have ended in the second round. To allay suspicions that the gulf in technical ability between Britain and the Continent is growing, it may be necessary for the current quartet to make it through at least one more stage.

It is incredible to reflect that England's representatives have not reached the third round en masse since 1964-65. That season, Bill Shankly's Liverpool eventually lost in a Champions' Cup semi-final to Internazionale and Bobby Moore lifted the Cup-Winners' Cup, while Everton and United enjoyed runs in the former Fairs Cup.

In the context of Rangers' demise, United should be satisfied to have won both legs against Kispest-Honved in their first Champions' Cup foray in 25 years. The disappointment was that the humdrum Hungarians were able to shackle Eric Cantona and Ryan Giggs; and that it took two set-piece goals by a defender, Steve Bruce, to see them off.

United, the fourth seeds, are well placed to reach the lucrative Champions' League stage. They will retain their ranking today, which should mean avoiding Milan, who were whistled off after a 0-0 home draw and 1-0 aggregate win over the Swiss champions Aarau, or Barcelona, the 1992 winners, who accounted for Dynamo Kiev.

Arsenal's progress, against Odense in the Cup-Winners' Cup, was more laboured. They also required that most English of goals, a header from a free-kick, as well as gifting the Danes a late equaliser. As with United, the hope must be that more prestigious foes will stimulate better form.

To that end, Arsenal, along with Aberdeen, now face the prospect of meeting one of the top seeds, who include Parma, the holders, Benfica, Torino and Real Madrid.

As one of the highest- ranked clubs in the Uefa Cup, Villa's reward for a victory over Slovan Bratislava that was more emphatic than the 2-1 scoreline suggests could be a tie with unseeded Norwich or Ron Atkinson's choice, Celtic. With their strong defence, balanced midfield and quick forwards, Villa certainly look better equipped to prosper than the Jo Venglos-led side who succumbed to Inter three years ago.