Vieri versus Shearer as Inter, Newcastle battle for place in the last eight of Champions League

  • Other Sport
  • Tuesday, 11 Mar 2003

PARIS: It's Christian Vieri against Alan Shearer as Newcastle seek to complete their Houdini escape act in the Champions League against Inter Milan today. 

The two powerful strikers hold the key to the tie at the San Siro which neither side can afford to lose if they want to reach the quarter-finals. 

Newcastle have dragged themselves back into contention after losing their first two games in the competition. 

Bobby Robson's side are third in Group A, a point behind Inter, after two victories over last year's struggling finalists Bayer Leverkusen. 

Vieri has struck 21 times in Serie A this season, but is yet to open his European account, while Shearer has 15 in the Premiership and four in Europe. 

Newcastle defender Titus Bramble has never forgotten the havoc Vieri wreaked as he scored a hat-trick when Inter beat Bramble's former club Ipswich 4-1 last season. 

“I'm looking forward to going back to the San Siro,” Bramble told the Newcastle Sunday Sun newspaper.  

“I had a bit of a nightmare the last time I was there as Vieri ran me ragged that night. Now by coming to Newcastle I have got the chance to go back against Inter Milan and try to put the record straight.” 

Inter coach Hector Cuper meanwhile describes Shearer as “one of the best strikers in the competition”. 

And if Vieri fails to find the net, Uruguayan striker Alvaro Recoba reminded everyone he can score too when he hit both goals in the 2-1 win over Bologna on Saturday. 

Cuper said: “Now we go into Tuesday's match high in confidence. A lot rests on the game and we are expecting a very tough battle. 

“Newcastle have a good blend of youth and experience.” 

Arsenal meanwhile face the prospect of going into the most crucial game of their treble-chasing season so far without top scorer Thierry Henry as they prepare to host AS Roma at Highbury. 

Henry's chances of playing were rated as 50-50 by manager Arsene Wenger after the French striker was substituted with a calf injury in Arsenal's 2-2 draw with Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Saturday. 

“His calf cramped up, so he is a big doubt for Tuesday night,” Wenger added. 

Henry hit his 26th goal of the season before being taken off – and three of those came in Arsenal's 3-1 away win over Roma in November which seemed to have put the reigning English Premiership champions on course for a trouble-free passage into the quarter-finals. 

But a draw with Valencia and two stalemates with Ajax have left Arsenal second to the Dutch side in Group B, although both have six points. 

So Henry's match-winning talents would be keenly missed against Roma. 

“He is fantastic. He is the best passer and scorer in the Premiership,” said Wenger. 

“Thierry is so physically strong, he has a very clean life, so he usually recovers very quickly”, said the French boss.  

“I think at the moment it's 50-50. He's not out of it just yet.” 

After a terrible start to both their domestic and Champions League campaign, Roma have drawn inspiration from the death of one of their lifelong fans, Italian comic actor Alberto Sordi. 

Since he passed away aged 82 at the end of February, the club honoured him with a minute's silence and a pre-match screening of his films before promptly rediscovering the kind of form that saw them lift the Italian league title in 2001. 

They beat Valencia 3-0 in Spain to keep alive their chances of qualifying for the last eight of the Champions League and kicked off two crucial matches in the space of four days with a 1-1 draw against Lazio in Saturday's Rome derby. 

Roma coach Fabio Capello sensed a sea change after Antonio Cassano's late equaliser earned his side a point against Lazio. 

“I hope this is a good sign that our season is turning around as we have recaptured that fight we were lacking earlier in the season. I must give credit to my players for not giving up,” he said. 

Italian pride is at stake as their teams have trembled alarmingly in recent years when the going has got tough in Europe's premier cup competition. 

Everything is still to play for in the other Group B game, in which a young and exciting Ajax side await the visit of Valencia, who have reached the final in two of the last three seasons. 

With the Spaniards sitting on five points, one behind Ajax and Arsenal, the visit to Ajax is crucial. 

“This is already our final,” noted Valencia striker Mista.  

In the second Group A game, Barcelona go in search of the single point they need from their last two games to be sure of qualifying as they host the hapless Leverkusen. The Germans are rock bottom of the group, without a point. 

Barca, unbeaten since the arrival of new coach Radomir Antic, go into battle missing former Spanish international Luis Enrique, who suffered a left thigh injury in his side's 1-1 league draw against Valladolid on Saturday. 

Also out of service are Dutch midfielder Philipe Cocu (left knee problem) and defender Carlos Puyol (cheekbone). 

To add to Antic's woes a host of regulars have questions marks over their fitness, including Thiago Motta, Patrick Kluivvert and Brazilian Fabio Rochemback. – AFP  

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