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Newcastle living the dream

Published: Tuesday 26 November 2002, 23.56CET
"Wildly exciting" is how Newcastle United FC's Sir Bobby Robson sees Internazionale FC's visit.

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Published: Tuesday 26 November 2002, 23.56CET

Newcastle living the dream

"Wildly exciting" is how Newcastle United FC's Sir Bobby Robson sees Internazionale FC's visit.

By Luke Williams

At one stage Newcastle United FC's UEFA Champions League ambitions looked little more than a pipe dream. With no points from their opening three first group stage games, the prospects of surviving into the last 16 looked bleak.

Unprecedented recovery
However, home wins against Juventus FC and FC Dynamo Kyiv gave Sir Bobby Robson's side a glimmer of hope before a dramatic 3-2 win in Feyenoord on Matchday Six completed a scarcely believable, and unprecedented, Champions League recovery. "We have created history," was Robson's assessment of "probably my greatest night as Newcastle manager".

'Exciting' challenge
So here Newcastle are in the second group stage, eagerly awaiting the visit of Italian side Internazionale FC on Wednesday night. "From a playing perspective it's marvellous," Sir Bobby said on the eve of his side's Group A opener. "This stage is that much more difficult. There isn't a bad club or side left in the tournament. It's wildly exciting, we're in the melting point and looking forward to it. If we play like we did against Juventus we've got a chance."
Hard-earned reputation
With 13 Italian titles, three UEFA Cups, two European Champion Clubs' Cups and two European/South American Cups among the silverware straining their trophy cabinet, Inter's reputation as European giants has been earned the hard way. All of which makes it surprising that the Nerazzurri, without a league title since 1989, are only taking part in their second Champions League campaign.
Strong home record
Héctor Cúper's side, who lost 1-0 to local rivals AC Milan on Saturday to leave them fourth in Serie A, impressed in winning Group D, yet England is not a happy hunting ground for them, with just one win in ten attempts, including a 2-0 defeat in Newcastle in 1970/71. Furthermore, their Premiership opponents have been boosted by the news that Hugo Viana has been passed fit to play and Laurent Robert's fractured cheekbone is sufficiently better to allow him to take a place on the bench.

Bellamy risk
However, Robson will wait before deciding whether to risk Craig Bellamy's longstanding knee injury. "There's a very good chance he will play," Robson said. "He has trained without problems and he's in my mind." Andy Griffin has been suffering from gastroenteritis and faces a late fitness test while Robson has confirmed that Shay Given, rested in the first stage against Juventus and Dynamo, will continue in goal.

Argentinians return
As for Inter, central defender Marco Materazzi, who missed the defeat by Milan, is a probable starter in place of Iván Cordoba, while Javier Zanetti and Matias Almeyda should also start, having, like striker Hernán Crespo, recovered from Argentina's trip to Japan last week.

Striker threat
Cúper described Newcastle as "a good side", dismissing assessments of them as the weakest in the group but along with Christian Vieri, Crespo - the tournament's joint top scorer - will doubtless be looking to take advantage of a home defence that leaked a worrying five goals against Manchester United FC at the weekend.

Last updated: 02/12/02 11.56CET