PSG progress to brink of brilliance

Adam Szreter tracks the form of the French club with a formidable strike force
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The Independent Online
As Milan battle to come to terms with the increasing certainty of conceding the Italian title to Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain are adjusting their eyes to the brightness of the European spotlight.

Just as in England and Italy, where clubs from the capital struggle to match the achievements of their greatest provincial rivals, PSG have been overshadowed in recent years by their btes noires, Marseille, the deposed 1993 European champions.

PSG, though, have flourished since the match-rigging misdemeanours that brought down Marseille, winning the French league last year and all six of their subsequent Champions' League matches, the only team to qualify for the knock-out stage with a 100 per cent record. Between times they changed manager, the popular Artur Jorge from Portugal replaced for this season by Luis Fernandez, the midfield bulwark of the French team that won the 1984 European Championship in such style.

In attempting to become the first French side to win a European club trophy fairly and squarely, PSG have the opportunity to succeed where Marseille fell from grace. They have already beaten two former winners - Bayern Munich (twice, at the group stage) and, in the quarter-finals, Barcelona.

"There's no denying that it was important for us to beat Barcelona," said Alain Roche, the club captain and a former team-mate of Chris Waddle at Marseille. "It was an historic match. Paris had never played against Barcelona and it was a very proud occasion, but it was only a quarter- final and we have to go all the way."

Roche, who was suspended for the decisive home leg against the Spanish champions, returns from last week's national service against Israel to the centre of PSG's defence tonight. There he forms a formidable partnership with the Brazilian veteran, Ricardo Gomez. In front of them is the French captain, Paul Le Guen. But it is to their attack, and three of the finest forwards in the world, that the supporters on the Tribune de Boulogne and all around the Parc des Princes will be looking for a lead to take to the San Siro in a fortnight.

George Weah, the Liberian centre-forward with a second home in New York, has already scored eight times in PSG's European Cup campaign. His speed and strength make him one of the most sought-after players in Europe, with Milan pressing hard for his services.

"George is unpredictable, and capable of a telling piece of skill at any moment in a match," Roche said. "Even if most of the time you don't really notice him, he can suddenly produce a stroke of genius."

Weah is flanked by Rai, the brilliant younger brother of Socrates, the former Brazilian captain, and the equally gifted and temperamental Frenchman, David Ginola, for some time now the object of Arsenal's desire, attention he has openly encouraged recently after being substituted in Barcelona. In the return leg, however, he played one of the games of his life in PSG's 2-1 win.

"David is a similar type of player to George; he has the same temperament," Roche said. "For a year and a half David was on a high but it's always difficult to remain at that kind of level for a very long time. He may not be quite as good as he was last year but he remains the best goalscorer at the club."

But it is Rai who remains the greatest enigma. Had he not lost his touch so completely following his move to Paris two years ago, he knows it would have been he who was lifting the World Cup aloft in Los Angeles last year, instead of making sporadic appearances for Brazil.

Roche again: "In my opinion Rai is doing better this year because the game we are playing is simpler; everything is based on speed of execution and he likes playing like that. He has extraordinary technical and passing ability and we are beginning to rediscover the Rai we met when he played at the Parc des Princes for Brazil in 1992."

And as for Milan? Fernandez, the coach, is happy to play the underdog. "We're going to meet the best team in Europe," he said. "Collectively and individually they are superior to us. It's practically a mission impossible, but if we get a chance, we'll take it." Bluffing or not? Paris should find out au Parc tonight.

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