Olympiakos' closed doors no barrier to Newcastle

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The Independent Online

Newcastle's attempt to run the rule over their forthcoming Uefa Cup opponents, Olympiakos, may have been thwarted recently, but the club say they have still done their homework.

Newcastle's attempt to run the rule over their forthcoming Uefa Cup opponents, Olympiakos, may have been thwarted recently, but the club say they have still done their homework.

The first leg of their tie in Athens next Thursday is Newcastle's 99th European fixture and Olympiakos' 80th anniversary. The Greeks have played their last four league games at their Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium behind closed doors because of crowd trouble, including Saturday's game with Chalkidona.

Olympiakos have won 10 and drawn one of their 11 home league matches this season, conceding just three goals. In Europe they have won all four home games - three in the Champions' League and one in the Uefa Cup - 1-0.

Newcastle's chief scout, Ray Clarke, said: "Fortunately, we did all our homework on Olympiakos before they closed the ground. We had two people in Athens watching Olympiakos and Sochaux in the first leg of their last-32 tie, and we did exactly the same when the two teams played in France last Thursday in the second leg.

"Without giving anything away, I think it's fair to say that Olympiakos have some very good players and that we will not be underestimating them. But after watching them twice in the past couple of weeks, we feel we know strengths and weaknesses and this has already been passed on to the manager."

Newcastle's striker Patrick Kluivert is trying to shake off a groin injury. The Dutchman, whose last appearance saw him score the winner in a 1-0 FA Cup win over Chelsea last month, has missed the games against Heerenveen in the Uefa Cup and Bolton in the Premiership. He is back in training and could play against Liverpool at St James' Park on Saturday.

Eleven Premiership clubs could play in Europe next season as two Intertoto Cup places have been reserved for English teams. Three clubs are thought to have expressed an interest in taking part in the competition, which starts on 18 June.

The draw for the first three rounds will be held on 11 April, but the Football Association will not have to confirm which sides will be taking part until the end of May. It has been accepted that the highest ranked side who have not already qualified for Europe will enter in the third round, with the second English team coming in a round earlier, along with the Scottish Premier League's Heart of Midlothian, who have also indicated their intention to take part if they cannot secure a Uefa Cup berth in domestic competition.

The Intertoto Cup has not proved popular with English clubs, but it provides three places in the Uefa Cup for the winners, a prize Fulham won in 2003. If both English entrants follow Fulham's lead, it would take the Premiership's European entrants to nine - four in the Champions' League and three in the Uefa Cup are already secure - with the possibility of one more through Uefa's Fair Play system and another should Middlesbrough or Newcastle win the Uefa Cup this season but fail to secure a European place through any other means.

It has been confirmed that Chelsea's Carling Cup triumph over Liverpool on Sunday has provided an extra incentive for the clubs battling for a top-six spot this season.

Middlesbrough currently occupy sixth spot, with Bolton, Tottenham and Charlton within striking distance. If the Teessiders hold on to their current position they will land the Uefa Cup spot that was on offer to the Carling Cup winners but has now reverted back to the Premiership, as Chelsea are certain to qualify for next season's Champions' League.

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