Liverpool confident of rising above Olimpija's insults

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The Independent Football

They have probably never heard of Clinton Morrison but Olimpija Ljubljana's manager, Suad Besirovic, and his striker Mladan Rudonja might learn a lesson from his experiences.

Before coming to Anfield for the second leg of a League Cup semi-final two years ago, Morrison, then with Crystal Palace, made a series of derogatory remarks about Liverpool in general and Michael Owen in particular. The result: Palace were thrashed 5-0.

In the wake of perhaps Liverpool's most disappointing display of the season, a listless 1-1 draw in the first leg of their Uefa Cup tie in the Slovenian capital, Besirovic remarked he would happily play them every week, while Rudonja accused them of lacking heart.

Even without Owen, who salvaged a draw with a late equaliser in Ljubljana, and Milan Baros, Liverpool should have far too much firepower at Anfield tonight even before those comments. "That is just the sort of thing to stir us up," the Liverpool striker Harry Kewell said. "It's what people say to upset players. If someone looks at us and says we have no heart, they clearly do not know what they are talking about."

Liverpool should qualify for the second round, although both Blackburn Rovers and Southampton appear in great danger of falling at the first hurdle. That Genclerbirligi are Turkish will guarantee them an evil reception at Ewood Park tonight, although the Blackburn manager, Graeme Souness, who took charge of Galatasaray before coming to Lancashire, yesterday launched a fierce defence of that country's football.

Souness pointed out that unlike Alpay Ozalan, whose violent reaction to David Beckham's missed penalty sparked off a fight between the players in the tunnel at the Sukru Saracoglu stadium, Tugay Kerimoglu congratulated the England team at full-time.

"It shows he's a proper professional," Souness said. "I've lived in Turkey and find the people warm, friendly and passionate so it saddens me that there is this atmosphere. Obviously, they have a few lunatics who go to watch their football but then so do we - most countries have."

Genclerbirligi are from Ankara, which is rather more laid-back in its attitude to football than Istanbul, and last month they exploited some glaring weaknesses in the Blackburn defence which had not been repaired by the time they came to play Leeds 11 days ago. "We've had a bad taste in our mouths since then," Souness said. "The players are desperate to get rid of it."

Frankly, Southampton and the Uefa Cup do not mix. The club have entered the competition five times and managed to beat one team, Limerick, and that featured a 1-1 draw at The Dell. Overcoming Steaua Bucharest, who held them to a 1-1 draw at St Mary's, is in a different order of difficulty.

The call by the Southampton manager, Gordon Strachan, for his side to show the same besieged spirit that England displayed in Istanbul was not without irony since a similar goalless draw would see his team eliminated on the away-goals rule. However, Strachan claimed he intended to attack in Romania. "We'll try to win because we are not clever enough to do anything else," he said.

If the Lokeren coach, Paul Put, wished to inspire his side before tonight's second leg against Manchester City, who are defending a 3-2 lead, he would merely have to pin Steve McManaman's comments about the Belgian club to the dressing-room wall at the Daknam Stadium.

"It would be a travesty if we went out to a team bottom of the Belgian First Division," said McManaman, who in his last match for City tasted defeat to a club bottom of the Premiership. "I have been following their results closely. They haven't won a game and have had a lot of defeats.

"We should have won the first leg more comfortably," he added. "We fully expect to go through and look forward to bigger and better things in the future." His manager, Kevin Keegan, returning to Belgium for the first time since the embarrassments of Euro 2000, was more circumspect, describing the tie as "on a knife edge".

The same could hardly be said of Newcastle United's journey to the Netherlands, where they will defend a 5-0 first-leg advantage against NAC Breda. Nevertheless their manager, Sir Bobby Robson, continues to be troubled by his striker Craig Bellamy who, for a second time, returned to Tyneside from international duty with a knee injury.

Last month the row between Newcastle and the Welsh Football Association over Bellamy culminated with both sides consulting their solicitors, but yesterday Robson chose to use some sarcastic wit rather than writs. "We sent him for a scan to compare the state of his knee to what it was a month ago when he complained bitterly about it," Robson said. "In the meantime, as you know, he recovered, never felt better in his life and now he's come back again injured."

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