Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Sporting Chance May Cost United Top Spot

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Sporting Chance May Cost United Top Spot

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Gilder

Graeme Souness will keep a close eye on events in Portugal this evening as Sporting Lisbon and Sochaux go head-to-head in a game which could have a major bearing on Newcastle's European ambitions.

United have a free week as the Uefa Cup resumes and, although the Magpies qualified for the third-round stage six days ago, there are still some vital issues to be decided in the Group D standings.

Souness's side, having won all three of their group games to date, could still be beaten to first place by Sporting.

And with the final positionings likely to be crucial to future success in the competition, this evening's encounter will be monitored carefully at St James's Park.

While the first-place finishers will be assured of a knock-out tie against a team which has finished third in their Uefa Cup group, the runners-up will be matched against one of the eight sides to enter the tournament from the Champions League in February.

And, with the likes of Real Madrid, holders Porto and Valencia among those presently occupying positions which would see them switch to the Uefa Cup, the significance of winning the group cannot be underestimated.

Should the standings remain as they are now, United could be dealt a more favourable tie against the likes of Hearts, Grazer AK or Dinamo Zagreb.

Sochaux, thrashed 4-0 by United at Stade Auguste Bonal last Thursday, will be determined to bounce back with a positive result in Lisbon this evening as they bid to secure their own place in the third round.

And even if Jose Peseiro's side were to lose at Estadio Jose Alvalde, they could still overhaul Newcastle at the top of the table by winning on Tyneside when the two teams meet on December 16.

Middlesbrough's continental fate could also be decided this week without the Teessiders kicking a ball. …

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