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Wednesday, March 17, 1999 Published at 11:50 GMT

Sport: Football

United carry hopes of a nation

David Beckham: His threat grows with added maturity

Manchester United's visit to Inter Milan for the second leg of their European Cup quarter-final represents perhaps the most important game in British club football for the last 15 years.

Alan Green looks forward to the match (BBC Radio 5 Live)
But his side's chances are unlikely to have been helped by the news that Brazil's two-time world footballer of the year Ronaldo would be starting the game for Inter, finally ending the long saga over his fitness.

The last time an English club won the most prestigious prize in European football was in 1984 when Liverpool triumphed - and since then the story has been a depressing one for English and Scottish teams.

United manager Alex Ferguson has made European success his top priority in this and previous seasons, but for all his hard work, the team have yet to progress past the semi-finals.

Many critics feel that this may just be United's year, with the current side in free scoring form and unbeaten in 17 games. The two goal advantage they have from the first leg will be especially useful.

Alex Ferguson: "We come here in good heart"
Ferguson is set to choose his team from a full squad, with the only doubt over Swedish winger Jesper Blomquist, who would have started the game on the bench.

Goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel has recovered from a bout of flu which restricted him to just 45 minutes of action in the weekend win at Newcastle.


The Dane, who is to leave Old Trafford at the end of the season, is keen to play down rumours that an essentially young United team will find the atmosphere of the San Siro intimidating.

[ image: Peter Schmeichel: The volatile Dane is not intimidated by any atmosphere]
Peter Schmeichel: The volatile Dane is not intimidated by any atmosphere
"I must say I can't see this being more difficult than some of the grounds in England and I must say as well it's not been an issue at all for us.

"We have just got to handle whatever happens and we have been in this position before.

"We have the experience from going to places like Barcelona, and it was the same when we went to Feyenoord last season."


Whilst there will be a familiar look to United's team on the night, Inter have selection problems not helped by the continuing doubts over Ronaldo's fitness and the ejection of Portuguese midfielder Paolo Sousa from the squad following disparaging remarks made at the expense of Coach Mircea Lucescu.

[ image: Ronaldo: Doubts persist over the striker's fitness]
Ronaldo: Doubts persist over the striker's fitness
Whilst the first leg at Old Trafford was dominated by talk of whether or not Ronaldo would make an appearance, there appears to be more concern over his state of mind than his ability to last the 90 minutes.

Lucescu remains confident that the superstar striker will play.

"He has been preparing for this match for such a long time.

"He wants it. And it's important, too, for world football. Now the rest of the team have to redouble their efforts to get him in the right position."


Whether Ronaldo will be effective depends on many factors. Lucescu will have to decide who partners the Brazilian in attack, with Roberto Baggio, Ivan Zamorano and Nicola Ventola vying for the other positions.

Peter Schmeichel: "We have the equipment to win"
In defence, Inter seemed unable to cope with the United striking pair of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. An away goal for Ferguson's men will almost certainly end the tie.

The home team will also be keen to deny David Beckham the space which he used to destroy them a fortnight ago.


The England midfielder was praised for the way he dealt with Argentine Diego Simeone, the player who contributed to Beckham's sending off during last year's World Cup.

Beckham refused to get involved in a personal duel with the player, and instead provided the crosses for Yorke to give United their lead.

The player emphasised his growing maturity with his attitude toward the second leg.

"We know when we get out there the Inter fans are going to be behind their team and will be booing us. That is going to make for some atmosphere but you get used to things like that.

"It's part and parcel of football these days and I have learned to handle it and get on with my game,"

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