United's crucial leg work

Norman Fox says Dortmund may wait for Sammer time at Old Trafford
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The Independent Online
Back in the 1960s Borussia Dortmund suffered their worst defeat in European competition, a 6-1 mauling. Their opponents were Manchester United, the club with whom they renew acquaintance on Wednesday in the European Champions' Cup. United's manager, Alex Ferguson, reckons he hears quite enough about the 1950s and 1960s without needing yet another reason for comparison.

Forgiveably, he says he is much more concerned with what happened earlier this season than the events of several decades ago. "We want to make up for the defeats by Juventus. They set the standard for the competition this season." He rates Dortmund no higher than Porto, United's last victims, but quietly and efficiently, the German champions have been moving in parallel with United, Juventus and Ajax by reaching the last four. They remain the underdogs of this elite group, but to underestimate them would be folly.

Ferguson always says he wants to play first-leg European ties away so that he knows exactly what is required in the second. It is a familiar train of thought with a foundation in history. Liverpool used to thrive on the prospect of bringing already bleeding victims back to their lair at Anfield. But in United's case Ferguson's argument could be turned on its head, ironically because Dortmund's most influential member, the European Footballer of the year Matthias Sammer, is suspended from that first game. Obviously the Germans are going to miss him, but they are still capable of keeping the tie under control, especially as his replacement could be no less than Julio Cesar, capped more than 60 times by Brazil.

United may feel that a draw or slender defeat is acceptable, knowing that following some embarrassment earlier in the season, their home performances of late have made them look invincible. The problem with Sammer is that he is just the sort of player who could look upon a one or two-goal deficit in Manchester as a wonderful challenge.

Dortmund's potential away from home was emphasised in the quarter-finals when they went to Auxerre, in France, and won 1-0 for a 4-1 aggregate victory. It was an impressive scoreline, as although Auxerre is not a very big place, its club has vast experience and has become something of a football fortress.

Yet no German team has reached the Champions' Cup final for 10 years. Dortmund can feel justified in believing it is their turn because they are going for their third successive League Championship and can boast the goal-scoring partnership of Karl-Heinz Riedle and Stephane Chapuisat, supported by Andreas Moller - the destroyer of another English dream with his penalty in Euro 96.

Paulo Sousa's composure in midfield is augmented by the industry of Paul Lambert, a Scot who is well aware of the possible irony of this season's situation in which he could stand in the way of Ferguson finally being elevated alongside yet another Scot, Matt Busby, in United's pantheon. In addition, United are going to play at Dortmund's comparatively small ground with its intimidating atmosphere. United's thoroughly professional work when drawing 0-0 with Porto in Portugal last month, gaining a 4-0 aggregate win, was an indication how much the team had matured since last year's naive performances against Juventus.

Even so, they now face not only a formidable German side but the psychological barrier of expectancy. The younger generation of supporters will be passionate, the older ones will have a particular emotion - the memory of a dark day in Munich, the sight of this season's final, where United lost so many players whose potential was never discharged.

A shadow in the background of the whole tie is the thought that if the recent revival of hooliganism at some grounds in England should extend to United's home tie against Dortmund on 23 April, the campaign to bring the 2006 World Cup to England rather than place it in Germany could be done a lot of damage. On the evidence of events in Oporto, the continental police are prepared to overreact on the basis of old reputations.