That was the weekend that was

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Old big mouth is on way back to Forest

BRIAN CLOUGH is planning a spectacular return to Nottingham Forest, six years after retiring as the manager of the club he turned into the champions of Europe. On his comeback, scheduled for a week on Sunday when Forest play hosts to Wolverhampton Wanderers, Clough said: "The game is all-important and I'm certainly hoping to see a Forest win. The last thing I want to do is get in the way of the young manager, David Platt, and if I thought anything would detract from the target of winning three points I would stay away."

Platt need not start worrying that the Forest board have taken desperate steps to bring the good times back to the City Ground. The 64-year-old Clough will simply be attending the game to witness the re-dedication of the Executive Stand as the Brian Clough Stand and to see the official unveiling of a bust of himself, which has been struck in a typical pose - Clough with his hand at his mouth, yelling his head off.

"I've always wanted the opportunity to go back to the City Ground and say "thank you" to the supporters who stood by my side week in, week out, for the 18 years I was at the club," said Clough who, among other triumphs, led Forest to the League title in 1978 and to European Cup successes in 1979 and 1980. "I didn't really get the chance to say goodbye in a proper manner [when I retired]," he added. "For one reason or another, largely my dodgy knee, I've not been back apart from popping in to see a reserve game one night. But I'm pleased I've been invited back for this re-naming of the stand. I'm delighted it's happening before I pop my clogs."

Minnows hungry for more success

DO EASY matches exist in international football or not? "Yes!" screamed Shearer and Co by demolishing Luxembourg on Saturday. "No!" countered Portugal and Hungary, both of whom were held to draws by minnows at the weekend.

"I think we just paid the price for being overconfident," Portugal's coach, Humberto Coelho, said after Luis Figo scored for his side in the 92nd minute to scrape a 1-1 draw against the mighty Azerbaijan in Baku. "Quite frankly, I did not expect such a result," Akhmed Alezkerov, Azerbaijan's coach, said after the match, which was abandoned on Friday after floodlight failure and replayed on Saturday. "We were missing a lot of our top players from abroad, so I just told my team: `Don't worry about winning or losing - just play for fun'. And it worked."

Azerbaijan's next qualifying match in Group Seven is against Hungary on Wednesday, a fixture that they might hope to get something from if Hungary's 0-0 draw on Saturday against the footballing giants of Liechtenstein is anything to go by. Hungary had three clear-cut chances to take the points but to no avail, as the plucky 11-man Liechtenstein defence held out. Easy, huh?

KEY NUMBERS

4

The number of nations in Euro 2000 qualifying with no points. Luxembourg, San Marino, Malta and Andorra are the zero minnows.

3

The number of teams in Group Four, the tightest of the qualifying pools, on 15 points. France, Russia and Iceland all trail Ukraine, who are on 16.

1

The number of qualifying groups without a country ending in the letter "a" (Group One). There are 20 countries ending in "a" altogether.

WHINGE OF THE WEEK

`Had Palace had a bit more confidence we'd have lost. I don't want my players going home thinking we played well."

Sheffield United's manager Adrian Heath, having a moan even though his side beat Crystal Palace 3-1.

RUMOURS

Enter Mondragon as Robson looks abroad

BOBBY ROBSON will make the Colombian World Cup goalkeeper, Farid Mondragon, his first Newcastle signing, according to The People, which says that the former England manager will pay Independiente of Argentina pounds 1.5m for the player. The same newspaper says Robson wants to buy the Ipswich striker, David Johnson.

Everton's Scottish international Don Hutchison is poised to make a short trip across Stanley Park to rejoin Liverpool, according to the News of the World, which says that he will move soon for pounds 1.3m deal because the Toffees fear losing him on a free when his contract expires in a year. The paper also says that Chelsea's manager, Gianluca Vialli, is to be offered pounds 2m per year to coach Lazio of Serie A.

The Sunday Mirror say Parma want to buy Gianfranco Zola from Chelsea for pounds 1m and have already had talks with Vialli about a deal.

Stan Collymore's future at Fulham is in the balance, according to the Mirror, which says Mohammed Al-Fayed has personally intervened to demand the player start scoring goals. The News of the World says Fulham have decided to send the on-loan Collymore back to Aston Villa.

The same paper says Tottenham's Steffen Iversen wants his pay doubled to pounds 1m per year to stay at White Hart Lane beyond 2001. The People says Iversen wants to treble his money and sign a six-year contract.

CARD CHECK

Walsall's goalkeeper James Walker helped his side march up the First Division card table on Saturday by pulling down Nottingham Forest's Gianluca Petrachi in the box and getting sent off. Making vehement diving signs at the referee probably didn't help his cause. Walker's red means that Walsall move up to fourth in their division's disciplinary league with nine yellows and one dismissal. Tranmere are top (13 yellows and three reds), Sheffield United second (12Y, 2R) and Fulham are third (9Y, 2R).

NET MINDER

"I stopped rating Alan the day I sidled up to his Jag and saw a Bryan Adams CD on the... seat. The bloke's two years younger than me for Christ's sake! I dread to think what was in the CD changer. Probably Barbara Dixon." A fan keeps alive the Shearer debate.

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Forgotten man... Face of the future

Alessandro Del Piero

Juventus

The Italian striker was expected to return to international action this week but was omitted from the squad picked to face Denmark on Wednesday. Filippo Inzaghi is likely to start in his place alongside Christian Vieri. Del Piero was out of action for 10 months with a cruciate ligament injury and has not played for Italy since last September, when he scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Switzerland. He returned to action a month ago but this latest blow will do little for his confidence.

Mark Burchill

Celtic

The 19-year-old striker has attracted the interest from several English clubs, but John Barnes will be anxious to hang on to him after his weekend performance for the Scotland Under-21 side. Burchill scored a hat-trick in the 5-2 win in Bosnia, sealing his side's first away win for three and a half years. He scored eight times in 24 first-team appearances for Celtic last season and, viewed as one of his club's brightest hopes, he might also be the answer to his country's problems up front.

International Team Of The Weekend

JOHN ROBINSON

Wales

KIERON DYER

England

ALAN SHEARER

England

DAVID BATTY

England

COLIN HENDRY

Scotland

PAUL JONES

Wales

DON HUTCHISON

Scotland

JOHN COLLINS

Scotland

KENNY CUNNINGHAM

Republic of Ireland

RYAN GIGGS

Wales

STUART PEARCE

England

Manager of the week: Mark Hughes (Wales). Saw his side come from behind in Belarus to make a winning start in charge. Keeps the door to Euro 2000 slightly ajar, at least. Performance of the week: Only a last-minute equaliser by Luis Figo prevented little Azerbaijan beating once-proud Portugal

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