Football: Villa fear the threat of bold Bebeto

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The Independent Online
IN A crowded Riazor Stadium, a goalkeeper's throw from the point where the north-western tip of Spain meets the roaring Atlantic, Aston Villa will tonight test the veracity of reports of a sea change in Spanish football.

Deportivo La Coruna, Villa's opponents in the first leg of their second-round Uefa Cup tie, go into the match on the crest of a wave which has recently engulfed the might of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Such results have put Galicia in Wonderland, and left Ron Atkinson wary. 'Our chief scout, Brian Whitehouse, saw them beat Barcelona 1-0 on Saturday and reckoned 5-0 wouldn't have flattered them,' the Villa manager said yesterday. 'When I put the phone down, I wished he hadn't rung.'

Atkinson also received a warning call from Colin Addison, his former No 2 at WBA and Atletico Madrid, who is now coach to Cadiz. Addison has seen 'Super Depor' four times this season and is convinced they are the best side in Spain.

Asked what Coruna's representatives might have gleaned from their reconnaissance missions to England, Atkinson retorted: 'If they saw us when we lost 2-0 at home to Newcastle, they'll probably be holding a party the night before the match.'

The main threat is likely to come from a player from the other side of the ocean. Brazil's Bebeto, 29 goals last season, headed the winner against Barcelona, although Coruna routed Real 4-0 without him.

Villa, who hope to be able to call on the defensive pace of Earl Barrett after a lengthy injury absence, will trust in Paul McGrath to contain Bebeto. 'While he is one of the best strikers in the world, he'll be up against one of the outstanding defenders,' Atkinson said.

His own brief sojurn in the capital has given him an insight into the mentality of Spanish players. 'If they get any encouragement, they can catch fire. Equally, they can become quite easily discouraged. In the words of the poet, we'll have to try and inflict ourselves upon them.' To that end, Atkinson is looking to Tony Daley, who can be poetry in motion when the mood takes him. The former England winger, 26 yesterday, is still transfer-listed but retains his place after a good performance in Saturday's

0-0 draw at West Ham.

'If Tony still feels he wants to get away, he'll have no bigger stage than a tie that will be screened all over Europe,' Atkinson said. 'It's a chance to put himself in the shop window, exactly as Laurie Cunningham did (for Albion) when he destroyed Valencia.'

The late Cunningham exchanged the Hawthorns for the Bernabeu Stadium on the strength of a tour de force against Kempes, Bonhof and Co in 1979. Welcome as such a bravura performance would be here, Villa might consider a repetition of their draw at Slovan Bratislava as a moral victory.

Deportivo La Coruna (probable): Liano; Djukic; Nando, Ribera, Voro; Mauro Silva, Donato, Fran, Mariano; Claudio, Bebeto.

Aston Villa (probable): Bosnich; Barrett, Teale, McGrath, Small; Houghton, Townsend, Richardson, Daley; Saunders, Atkinson.