Football: Zeitgeist embodied by Ziege

Derby County 1 Middlesbrough 3
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MORE AND more, football is a global game. But if ever proof were needed that domestic matters still stir the passions of the masses most, it was here. The great English hero - flawed, but still the hero - was absent. In his place his fans cheered a German.

A German! Christian Ziege - he even scored against us in Euro 96, in that dreadful, terminal shoot-out. Are we not supposed to loathe Germans? Not when they are wearing a Middlesbrough shirt, apparently. Certainly not when they fire in two goals in a week. Ziege! The Teessiders chanted his name.

"It was special to hear that," Bryan Robson said, oblivious to all irony. "It's not something you normally get with a defender. It's usually the strikers that catch the eye."

So what is 70 years of sworn international enmity between friends? Not much when there is a pot of Premiership gold to play for. "He is a great addition to our squad," Robson added, explaining why he paid Milan pounds 4m for his latest import. "I said three years ago that Maldini, Roberto Carlos and Ziege were the best wing-backs in the world and I've no reason to change that view."

What is more, he is a wing-back with a forward's eye for a goal. The one he scored against Wimbledon last Tuesday was put away with confident efficiency. Here, the 25-yard freekick he curled out of Mart Poom's reach could have been from the David Beckham repertoire. For that matter, it was from Paul Gascoigne's range. But even had the English hero not been resting in the stands, Ziege would still have stepped up. "Christian probably hits the target with a good 50 per cent of those in training," Robson said, before adding, with a grin: "Gazza says he can have them."

Robson has been on Ziege's trail for some time. "When he went to Milan, their idea was to play Maldini in the middle of defence and play Christian at wing-back," the Middlesbrough manager said. "But he picked up a back injury and so it never happened. When he was fit again he couldn't get back in the side."

Not much persuasion was needed to bring him to the North-east. "He has moved into a nice village with his wife and children and seems to have settled really well," Robson said. "And he has been brought up as a wing- back so he slots into the side easily."

"I think there will be more Germans coming," he added. "Their mentality is similar to English players and now that our league is that bit stronger and there is more money about our clubs are becoming more attractive to them."

Jim Smith would welcome one, particularly if he was Oliver Bierhoff, for example. The Derby manager, thwarted so far in his attempts to sign the Argentinian, Esteban Fuertes, was so displeased with Mikkel Beck's attempts to fill the breach on Saturday that he took the Dane off at half- time.

It did not work. Middlesbrough, driven impressively from the engine room by Paul Ince and cushioned by Brian Deane's goal even before Ziege struck, withstood a comeback, in which Deon Burton scored, and made themselves safe with Hamilton Ricard's penalty midway through the second half.

Robson, meanwhile, lamented the loss of Dean Gordon, who may have knee ligament damage, and dismissed all talk of Gascoigne being "mentally unfit." He said: "Gazza's fine. We were always going to give him two games and then a rest. I don't know where this mental thing has come from."

Goals: Deane (9) 0-1; Ziege (20) 0-2; Burton (41) 1-2; Ricard pen (66) 1-3.

Derby County (3-5-2): Poom; Prior, Carbonari, Laursen; Delap, Eranio (Bohinen, 71), Powell, Johnson, Baiano (Borbokis, h-t); Burton, Beck (Schnoor, h-t). Substitutes not used: Hoult (gk), Harper.

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Schwarzer; Festa, Vickers, Gordon (Townsend, 59); Stamp, Mustoe, Ince, O'Neill, Ziege; Deane, Ricard (Armstrong, 83). Substitutes not used: Roberts (gk), Maddison, Gavin.

Referee: S Bennett (Orpington).

Bookings: Derby: Carbonari, Burton, Bohinen. Middlesbrough: Ziege, O'Neill.

Man of the match: Ince.

Attendance: 24,045.