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Tuesday, September 14, 1999 Published at 21:58 GMT 22:58 UK

Champions off to frustrating start

United defender Henning Berg closes down Zagreb's Josip Simic

Man Utd 0-0 Croatia Zagreb

Manchester United kicked off their defence of the Champions League in disappointing fashion, with a goalless draw at Old Trafford.

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Cup-holders United were without a host of key players, including influential skipper Roy Keane, and Sir Alex Ferguson's team looked under-strength and below par.

Any hopes of evoking the memory of that stunning victory over Bayern Munich in the final in Barcelona last May faded fast on a tedious night in the north-west.

Zagreb, displaying all the neat midfield skills that their manager Ossie Ardiles was so renowned for as a player, defied the home side with an impressive display.

And although they carved out a number of chances after the break, there was no way through for United.

Stam so strong

Right from the off United found it difficult to break down their well-organised opponents.

[ image: United's Scholes nips in to deny Igorbiscan of Zagreb]
United's Scholes nips in to deny Igorbiscan of Zagreb
Indeed so threatening were Zagreb that United's best player on show was a defender, Jaap Stam, who spared his team's blushes with a dominant performance at centre-back.

Ferguson, deprived of no less than 11 players through injury, was forced to give European debuts to youngsters Mark Wilson and Michael Clegg.

And he sprung a surprise in goal, with Peter Schmeichel's long-time deputy Raimond Van Der Gouw preferred to summer signing Mark Bosnich.

Zagreb, without their injured play-maker Robert Prosinecki, began brightly and Edin Mujcin should have done better with a header as early as the second minute.

The visitors were more than comfortable early on in the daunting arena of Old Trafford - but Tomislav Rukavina could only half-hit a shot at Van Der Gouw.

United were kept at bay throughout the first half, as Paul Scholes failed to hit the target with the only two half-chances to come their way.

Renewed effort

United were a different proposition after the break and a sweeping move in the 54th minute nearly produced the breakthrough.

Dwight Yorke pulled off his marker on the left and set up Ryan Giggs, who played a one-two with Andy Cole, before shooting straight at Croat keeper Drazen Ladic.

Ladic then saved well with his legs following Cole's sharp turn and shot - and from the resulting corner the impressive Stam headed wide.

A deflected Beckham free-kick had Ladic at full stretch and substitute Teddy Sheringham was denied by a last-ditch tackle.

Henning Berg did well to connect with Scholes' deep cross after launching himself headlong at the far post - but his diving header hit the side netting.

With eight minutes to go Yorke sent a speculative shot looping towards the goal - but it crashed against the bar and bounced clear.

But the best chance of the lot fell in the dying moments when Cole's hard work in the six-yard box created a superb opening for Sheringham - but another superb save from Ladic with his legs kept out his shot.


Man Utd: Van Der Gouw, Clegg, Berg, Stam, P Neville, Beckham, Wilson, Scholes, Giggs, Cole, Yorke. Subs: Bosnich, Irwin, Sheringham, Curtis, Cruyff, Fortune, Greening.

Croatia Zagreb: Ladic, Tokic, Juric, Mujcin, Rukavina, Saric, Simic, Cvitanovic, Tomas, Biscan, Jurcic. Subs: Vasilj, Sedloski, Sabic, Mikic, Jelicic, Sokota, Mumlek.

Referee: N Levnikov (Russian)

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