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Football: Leeds feast on Dida's calamity

LEE BOWYER'S goal in the penultimate minute urged Leeds an improbable victory over Milan in a West Yorkshire deluge last night, while simultaneously setting the reputation of Brazilian international goalkeepers back 50 years.

The teams seemed to have settled for a Champions' League point apiece as Bowyer, having taken Eirik Bakke's pass 25 yards from goal, took aim more in hope than expectation. The midfielder's rising drive flew straight at Dida, who joined Milan from the world club champions, Corinthians, but proceeded to perpetrate an error so elementary it would have been a laughing stock at Corinthian Casuals.

Dida appeared to have caught the ball, only to let it squirm from his grasp like a greasy balloon. As it trickled over the line, Milan's disbelief was shared by Leeds' players and supporters. In stark contrast with their retreat from Barcelona, they celebrated as if they had won the European Cup itself.

The effect of this victory, in tandem with Besiktas's equally unexpected rout of Barcelona, was to blow Group H wide open. All four clubs have three points, and Leeds, who now face back-to-back meetings with the Istanbul side, will spend the next week dreaming of qualifying for the second phase.

David O'Leary, having seen his patched-up team preserve Leeds' record of never having lost at home to Italian opposition in seven attempts, said pointedly and not a little petulantly: "We answered a few people tonight in the best possible way."

The Leeds manager added: "Maybe the great man was looking down on me. There are no whipping boys in this group and there's still a long way to go. But I particularly like beating Serie A sides because I'm a great admirer of their game."

Milan's coach, Alberto Zaccheroni, put a philosophical slant on his disappointment, declining the invitation to castigate Dida: "I don't blame him. He's very sorry, but these things happen in football. It's a pity because we were controlling the game at that point."

Incredibly, Milan have still to beat English opposition away in Europe during 10 matches over four decades and have not so much as scored a goal in England since 1972. A year later they overcame Don Revie's Leeds 1- 0 in a dubiously refereed Cup-Winners' Cup final, though that hurt must now be considered avenged.

Yet Leeds, humbled by Ipswich and Manchester City in their previous two home games, ought to have been there for the taking. Their injury crisis forced O'Leary to press Bakke back into service prematurely and to hand Dominic Matteo his debut - after one day's training - and neither let him down. O'Leary found other unlikely heroes in his makeshift central-defensive pairing, Michael Duberry and Danny Mills. The ease with which Leeds contained Oliver Bierhoff would surely have heartened Kevin Keegan in view of England's forthcoming World Cup encounter with Germany.

Even the normally imperious Paolo Maldini was reduced to the ranks of the mere mortals. Leeds frequently threatened along his flank and it was a measure of Maldini's discomfort when he was booked for pulling back Alan Smith in the second half.

Smith, heavily criticised after reckless lunges on Rivaldo and Phillip Cocu at the Nou Camp a week earlier, linked effectively with Michael Bridges in attack without once displaying the nastier side of his character. A caution-free evening means that the 19-year-old, who is Leeds' top scorer, is free to play against Besiktas at Elland Road next Tuesday.

It was unfortunate for Leeds that their most clear-cut opportunity fell not to a forward but to Bakke, who sent a free header over the bar following Bowyer's first-half cross.

Then, as they inevitably tired, Andrei Shevchenko came into his own. Nigel Martyn twice kept out vicious shots, and when the Ukrainian striker broke clear, Mills dispossessed him with a perfectly judged sliding tackle.

That seemed to be that, but a combination of a wet ball and Dida's Gary Sprake impersonation not only arrested Leeds decline but may well have relaunched their season.

Leeds United (4-4-2): Martyn; Kelly, Duberry, Mills, Harte; Bowyer, Bakke, Dacourt, Matteo; Bridges, Smith. Substitutes not used: Huckerby, Jones, Hay, Burns, Evans, Hackworth, Robinson, (gk).

Milan (3-4-3): Dida; Chamot, Costacurta, Maldini; Helveg, Albertini, Giunti (Saudati, 89), Coco; Guglielminpietro (De Ascentis, 59), Bierhoff, Shevchenko. Substitutes not used: Leonardo, Sala, Serginho, Roque Junior, Rossi (gk).

Referee: G Benko (Austria).

Barcelona trauma, page 26

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