Leeds await Barcelona showdown

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The Independent Online

Peter Ridsdale, the Leeds United chairman, is anticipating an epic battle against Barcelona next Tuesday to delight all who lament the advent of a league format in the European Cup.

Peter Ridsdale, the Leeds United chairman, is anticipating an epic battle against Barcelona next Tuesday to delight all who lament the advent of a league format in the European Cup.

In the aftermath of the 0-0 draw at Besiktas on Wednesday, which maintained Leeds' ascendancy in Group H of the Champions' League, Ridsdale said: "Barcelona at Elland Road was always going to be a special night, but now the competition has become a knock-out. If we do beat them, we can go to Milan for our last game relaxed and enjoying the experience.

"Besiktas is a difficult place to come to - as Barcelona found to their cost - so a point is very valuable. It means our destiny is in our own hands. It looks as if we're through [to the second phase] if we beat Barcelona. A top-three spot appears to be very much within our grasp, so further progress in Europe looks likely. It's up to us to make sure it's in the Champions' League rather than the Uefa Cup."

Leeds left the opulent surroundings of a hotel that had a "live" harpist and exotic birds in the foyer for a flight to Manchester yesterday ahead of tomorrow's match at Old Trafford. They were carrying two new casualties, Michael Bridges and Ian Harte, prompting Ridsdale to hint at transfer activity sooner rather than later. "We're getting an injury every match - it's a question of who'll be next to get hurt. In terms of reinforcements, we never stop looking. The money is there and David [O'Leary] knows that. We've had a long chat on the flight to Turkey about when, and on whom, we might have to write the next cheque. It's up to him when he has identified who he wants to bring in."

In the meantime, the Leeds' manager's penchant for patching up his team is set for its sternest test. Two draws would actually see them progress in the Champions' League - barring a brace of unlikely wins by Besiktas - although a point at San Siro could prove problematic without so many key players.

Hence the suspicion that Wednesday's stalemate in Istanbul, against desperately ordinary opponents they had beaten 6-0 at home, represented a missed opportunity. As football mysteries go, Besiktas's 3-0 rout of Barcelona ranks alongside responsibility for the theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1966.

The fixture seemed to buckle under the weight of doubts and fears from Leeds' blood-stained struggle with Galatasa-ray six months earlier. If nothing else, however, the evening was free of violence of anything much more than a verbal nature.

While the coach carrying English media to the stadium took two hits from rock-throwers without damage or injury, stories about Her Majesty's press being stoned are two a penny. More to the point, a rigorous police operation ensured that Leeds' 138 followers never came into contact with their local counterparts.

There had been a prickly moment when it seemed they would pass through Ataturk Airport at the same time as the Galatasaray party returning from Glasgow. That prospect having been narrowly averted, the Leeds' contingent was taken on a "dry" boat tour around the Bosphorus straits until shortly before kick-off.

The sound of the self-styled "Barmy Navy" singing "Sailing On Together" provided light relief from the inevitable tension. Now the arrival of Barcelona, for whom Rivaldo is in full flow, has the makings of a sink-or-swim occasion for Leeds.

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