Rude reminders of the reality of life in Europe

Phil Shaw reflects on a night of mixed fortunes for British clubs in the Uefa Cup
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The Independent Online
Before their Uefa Cup first round games, Britain's representatives went through the formalities of warning that "there are no easy matches any more". A set of results which put into perspective talk of the Premiership being Europe's top league meant it was back to "it's only half-time in this tie" yesterday.

In the case of Arsenal, beaten 3-2 by Borussia Monchengladbach, that is likely to sound like so much straw-clutching come the second leg in Cologne on 24 September. Stewart Houston, linked with Leeds but still holding the fort for Arsene Wenger, rated Arsenal's performance their worst in Europe during his time there.

Tony Adams, who has not played for the club since January because of injury, may make the return game, although Dennis Bergkamp could be absent with a hamstring strain. Welcome as Adams' leadership would be, the quality most conspicuous by its absence was the blend of invention and industry displayed by Stefan Effenberg.

The 28-year-old midfielder, for whom Wenger is reportedly ready to pay pounds 3m, did not rule out a move to Highbury. "Whatever happens, I'll stay at Monchengladbach for the rest of the season," he said. "But everything is open and I'll discuss the situation with my wife [who is also his agent] in December."

While the Aston Villa manager, Brian Little, is not given to bravado, he had publicly anticipated that their fitness and pace would tell in the last 15 minutes against their part-time opponents from Sweden. Instead, Helsingborgs earned a draw with 10 minutes remaining.

That away goal means a barren second leg would suffice the Swedes, but their manager, Reine Almqvist, promised no repeat of Tuesday's negative tactics. "We have a public to care about," he said, "a duty to entertain when we play at home." It was either kidology or naivete. Either way, greater imagination remains the key to penetration for Villa.

Newcastle had no such problems seeing off another Swedish outfit, Halmstads. Kevin Keegan gambled on playing two defenders at times and used five forwards, including the recalled and rampant Faustino Asprilla. "Europe is a party from League football," he said after a 4-0 win, a gung-ho approach unlikely to prosper against better opposition.

Celtic, whose own multi-national strike force had amassed 22 goals in six games, ran into precisely that problem in the 2-0 defeat by Hamburg. "We're kidding ourselves if we think we'll get anywhere in Europe defending like that," their manager Tommy Burns said. "Hamburg are a half-decent Bundesliga team, but against a Scottish side they looked very good."

Bizarrely, Barry Town probably have a better chance of advancing than Arsenal or Celtic. The League of Wales champions - next assignment: away to Holywell - face a 3-1 deficit against Aberdeen. Yet they beat the Hungarian side, BVSC-Dreher, from an identical position in the preliminary round. An early home goal, to coin another Euro-cliche, could make things interesting.

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