Football: United aim to silence roar of the Ruhr

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The Independent Online
Dancing in the streets of Dortmund this afternoon, silence in the seats of the Westfalenstadion tonight. That is Manchester United's dual ambition for today, their most important day in European competition for nearly 30 years.

The Premiership leaders, and an estimated 4,000 fans, are in the heart of the Ruhr for United's first European Champions' Cup semi-final since 1969 when, as the holders, they lost to Milan. They have since won the European Cup-Winners' Cup, in 1991 but, in terms of prestige, profit and a place in history this game dwarfs even the final of that competition.

United's date with destiny begins at noon as the main phalanx of the travelling support, including 500 ticketless fans, rolls into the city. In an enterprising approach, Dortmund are staging a "fans' gathering" in the medieval market square. It will be the 16th such street party. Dortmund supporters' close ties with Celtic stem from two of them, but it will be the first with an English team.

As the evening falls, the spotlight will move to the Westfalenstadion on the southern outskirts. Paul Lambert, Dortmund's Scottish midfielder, regards it as the most intimidating venue in Europe but United should feel happier than at Galatasaray. The ground, like Old Trafford, has recently been extended to 55,000 and there is no running track.

United are in confident mood. Everyone is fit, the second leg at Old Trafford is up their sleeve, and their opponents are weakened by injury and suspension. The bullish mood was underlined when Peter Schmeichel suggested the current team would defeat the 1968 European Cup winners 10-0.

"I'm not denying anything the United teams of the past have achieved," Schmeichel said, "but I am part of the greatest United team of all time. If we played the '68 team we would win 10-0. Since the Sixties the pace of the game is so much faster. Just look at the old videos and you see the space they have and the time on the ball. I'm not saying they were not a great team for their time but we probably play at twice the speed." Having made the same point in the wake of last month's 4-0 win over Porto, this correspondent can only agree.

The speed of the modern game has put more pressure on referees and that was Alex Ferguson's prime concern. United, like Dortmund, have seven players on a yellow card - one booking from suspension - and Ferguson said: "It is important that the referee does not fall for the European tendency to go down whenever they are touched."

Ferguson, apparently forgetting that David Beckham got an opponent booked by diving in an earlier round, added: "This gamesmanship is not something English players like, but we have a different culture. We tend not to go to the ref crying for a card to be given. That is a black part of German culture and Dortmund have their bit of it.

"The referee needs to be fair and strong as I won't be telling them not to tackle, to tiptoe around as I did in Porto. We will be competing. That is not a problem if we are disciplined."

The referee is an English- speaking Russian, Nikolai Levnikov, who officiated Liverpool's recent match in Brann. He booked Steve Harkness, for a "stiff challenge", but failed to see the Norwegian club's goalkeeper haul down Robbie Fowler after the England striker had dribbled past him.

While Ferguson wants United to "express themselves" and seek "penetration", the contest is between United's defence, unbeaten for more than five hours in Europe, and Dortmund's attack, the competition's top scorers with 18 goals in eight games. They also have the best accuracy rating with more than two-thirds of their shots on target compared to less than half of United's.

United will probably play Ronnie Johnsen in midfield to track the runs of Andy Moller who, like Stephane Chapuisat and Karlheinz Riedle is expected to play despite not training yesterday. Definitely out are Matthias Sammer (suspended) and Ibrahim Tanko (injured), Julio Cesar and Steffan Freund are doubtful while Jurgen Kohler flew to Munich for specialist treatment on his ankle injury.

Dortmund remain formidable and this first leg is unlikely to be conclusive; nor will it be goalless, however. United need to score and silence the Dortmunder roar.

Borussia Dortmund (probable; 4-3-1-2): Klos; Reuter, Kohler (or Kree), Feiersinger, Heinrich; Ricken, Sousa, Lambert; Moller; Chapuisat, Riedle.

Manchester United (probable; 4-4-1-1): Schmeichel; G Neville, May, Pallister, Irwin; Beckham, Keane, Johnsen, Giggs; Cantona, Solskjaer.

Referee: N Levnikov (Russia).

Nils Liedholm, the grand old man of Italian football, has been brought out of retirement to take temporary charge of Roma. The appointment of the 74-year-old, silver-haired Swede to his fourth spell at the club came after the Argentinian, Carlos Bianchi, was dismissed. Liedholm, nicknamed "The Baron", retired in 1992 when he left his job at Verona.