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Linfield just right to be wary of La Fiorita


By Graham Luney

Linfield should be wary of upsetting the San Marino boys ahead of tomorrow's Champions League showdown with La Fiorita at Windsor Park.

The club's president Alan Gasperoni has proved before that he's not prepared to tolerate any arrogance or disrespect shown to the minnows.

Gasperoni ripped into Bayern Munich ace Thomas Muller and the club's chief-executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge after the duo questioned why they needed to play smaller nations following Germany's 8-0 thrashing of San Marino in a World Cup qualifier in November.

The spokesman for San Marino's Olympic Committee (CONS) made headlines when he blasted back with a 10-point dossier, accusing Germany of being bullies and remarking: "football doesn't belong to you."

While Linfield players and management accept they have a tough hurdle to overcome in the first qualifying round of the Champions League, the talk regarding a potential blockbuster between the Blues and Celtic will not have escaped the notice of La Fiorita.

Their players will also relish a crack at Brendan Rodgers' Bhoys but, even before the sides go into battle, Linfield and Celtic have released statements about a possible meeting and the Blues are negotiating a live television deal.

When the draw was made pitting Linfield with La Fiorita, Gasperoni said he had huge respect for the Blues and anticipated a very tough assignment.

"It will obviously be a fascinating challenge," he said. "We will play on an incredible stage where George Best used to play and in the city where he was from but, unfortunately, Linfield is the worst team we could draw.

"We wanted to achieve progress in this competition but our chances are reduced. Although we do not really know their strengths, we know that they are semi-professional and they have won the championship again so they will be strong."

Blues boss David Healy has been respectful towards his opponents and warned his players against commenting on any potential tussle with Celtic.

But that hasn't killed off the sense of anticipation surrounding a first ever battle between Linfield and the Hoops.

Gasperoni, however, will remind the players they are not lambs to the slaughter at Windsor Park, and his reply to Muller and Rummenigge underlined a fierce pride in his country's footballing exploits.

Muller remarked that "matches like the one against San Marino have nothing to do with professional football", but Gasperoni replied by taking a swipe at the Germans' stereotypical penchant for wearing socks with sandals.

He said: "It served to make it clear to me that even under the most beautiful football shirts you will always be the ones who wear white socks with their sandals.

"It also served to show that football belongs to everyone who loves it and we are part of that, whether you like it or not."

Northern Ireland's next World Cup qualifier in Group C is away to San Marino on September 1.

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