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Friday, 9 June, 2000, 08:47 GMT 09:47 UK
Nilis turns blind eye to Villa
BBC Sport Online's Pete Lansley speaks to Luc Nilis, the Belgian striker who will join crisis club Aston Villa after Euro 2000.
Luc Nilis is casting aside all thoughts of the crisis at his new club Aston Villa as he focuses on helping Belgium through their Euro 2000 opener against Sweden.
Nilis, who leaves Eindhoven for Villa on a Bosman free transfer on July 1, is competing for the last striker's place - alongside Emile Mpenza - with his good friend Branko Strupar, who preceded him into the Premiership by signing for Derby County for £3m last season.
But Nilis, who returned from the international wilderness last year when Robert Waisege succeeded George Leekens as national coach, is facing a less straightforward contest after the finals when he moves to Birmingham.
The latest in a number of shock transfer requests at Villa Park came on Thursday from club captain Gareth Southgate.
But Nilis, who is almost 33 and well into the veteran bracket, straight-batted the issue to the boundary.
"I don't have an answer for that question," he said when asked how the probable player exodus would affect the club.
"I'm happy to be back in the selection frame for my country and everything's been going well on the eve of the tournament. We have a lot of confidence and that's also coming from this coach."
In the pre-tournament media scrum at Belgium's tranquil training base of FC Tielens - a semi-pro club hidden away just past an ice-cream factory, near Antwerp - attention focused on Nilis on Thursday evening.
And his national coach added that the player's popularity in the squad was as significant as the talents that so attracted Villa manager John Gregory.
"But he is equally important in this group because he's a player with big experience and he's back here with the national squad with big pleasure. His humour is good."
Nilis is the man who ended the Republic of Ireland's hopes of qualifying for France 98 by scoring Belgium's play-off winner.
Generally his scoring record is poor for a striker at one in five from 53 games but he reckons an early strike against Sweden could be the key to an entertaining opener in Brussels on Saturday afternoon.
"Sweden are a very difficult team to beat because they play with a lot of players behind the ball. So one way to open them up is to score early.
"We have a good chance to go far in this tournament, that's realistic. But first we must climb the first step and that is to get into the second round.
"If we manage that, we can go far - every game is a cup final."
Nilis' arrival at Villa Park would be delayed if Belgium reach the final, which will be staged in Rotterdam on 2 July.
But he said: "I don't think now about that. I can only think about that after this competition. It's another ambition but right now I can't concentrate on it."
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