Football: Villa still viable as Vieri is spot on

Atletico Madrid 1 Aston Villa 0
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The Independent Online
A HIGH-CLASS exhibition of goalkeeping by Mark Bosnich, allied to a staunch rearguard acton, restricted Atletico Madrid to a single penalty by Christian Vieri in the Vicente Caldern Stadium last night. Aston Villa did not manage the vital away goal their second-half efforts warranted, but will go into the home leg of this Uefa Cup quarter-final with hopes justifiably high.

The outcome represented a a satisfactory climax to a turbulent week in Villa's history. It had started with Brian Little's bolt from the claret and blue, continued with John Gregory's appointment as manager, and took in a victory over Liverpool and the arrival of a new coach, Steve Harrison, along the way.

The atmosphere was light years removed from what Villa's management team would have encountered last night had circumstances not prised them from Wycombe and Preston respectively. Firecrackers greeted the teams, while one banner claimed Spanish sovereignty over Gibraltar and another denounced the "English Pigs".

Villa's 2,000-strong following may have still been pondering the significance of Mark Draper's recall in place of Julian Joachim when the personal duel between Bosnich and Vieri commenced. With only 90 seconds gone, Vieri slipped his marker, Ugo Ehiogu. His angled shot looked bound for the far corner of the net until Bosnich swooped to smother the ball.

Vieri, a pounds 12.5m signing from Juventus, conducted his campaign by fair means and foul. His fifth-minute back-header from a cross by Jose Luis Caminero drew another fine save from Bosnich, who tipped the ball over.

From the corner, Vieri used a hand, a la Maradona, to divert it into Villa's net. The referee, a fellow Italian, cautioned the "scorer". Signor Braschi then refused his compatriot a penalty as he fell theatrically under Gareth Southgate's challenge.

Villa broke out to create an overdue opening midway through the first half. A measured build-up, involving Dwight Yorke and Stan Collymore in its later stages, freed Lee Hendrie on the edge of Atletico's 18-yard area. But the 20-year-old's composure deserted him, his shot flailing wildly over.

Vieri's vendetta resumed immediately. Toni's cross found him confronting Bosnich at point-blank range, but again the goalkeeper emerged clutching the ball. The Australian, who was being showered with bottles, lighters and batteries from behind the goal, was harshly cautioned for time-wasting as he attempted to clear them.

Another remarkable parry by Bosnich, from a header by Andrei, led to Atletico taking a 41st-minute lead. In the ensuing scramble, Ian Taylor fouled Caminero. Vieri, inevitably, stepped up to take the kick, which Bosnich reached but could not keep out.

When Leicester visited Atletico in the first round, their 2-1 defeat was sealed by a penalty awarded in more dubious circumstances. Villa's Midlands rivals had been forced to cope with the wiles of Juninho, now sadly indisposed with a broken leg, yet the pressure was, if anything, more intense during the first-half last night.

Gregory's hopes that Collymore's renaissance might be continued had not quite materialised before he was withdrawn soon after the interval.

The pounds 7m striker, who had received negligible service anyway, was not able to train the previous evening because of an ankle injury and now left the pitch disconsolately.

Joachim came on for his European debut, but it was to the even less experienced Hendrie that Villa's rare opportunities fell. Breaking cleverly from midfield in the 57th minute, he controlled Alan Wright's centre with an exquisite touch, but then seemed to hesitate, allowing a defender to block.

Villa, undaunted, carved out further chances to equalise around the hour mark. When Simon Grayson's jinking run and pass was met by a scuffed shot by Yorke, the ball broke to Joachim, whose close-range effort was kept out by Jose Francisco Molina.

The Atletico keeper was a spectator, however, as Ehiogu climbed unattended to glance Draper's free-kick goalwards. To Villa's frustration, the ball flew past the far post, and an angled drive by Yorke met the same fate moments later.

Villa's second-half display was as enterprising as their first-half showing had been defiant. But it will be a source of concern for Gregory that as many as 10 players could be within one booking of missing the semi- final if, as now appears possible, Atletico's advantage can be overturned at Villa Park.

Atletico Madrid (4-4-2): Molina; Aguilera, Santi, Andrei, Toni; Jose Mari (Paunovic, 61), Pantic (Nimny, 73), Vizcaino, Caminero; Kiko, Vieri. Substitutes not used: Fede, Futre, Geli, Cristian, Diaz, Jaro (gk).

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Southgate, Scimeca (Staunton, 42); Grayson, Taylor, Draper, Hendrie, Wright; Yorke, Collymore (Joachim, 50). Substitutes not used: Charles, Nelson, Collins, Davis, Oakes (gk).

Referee: S Braschi (Italy).

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