LONDON // While the Italian giants AC Milan have shrugged off their poor start to the season and find themselves well placed to advance to the next round of the Uefa Cup, English club Tottenham wish they could say the same. Seven-time winners of European football's more prestigious competition, the European Cup, Milan followed up two losses in Serie A with three victories in a row including the most important of all - a 1-0 win over bitter neighbours Inter Milan at the San Siro.
The Rossoneri boss Carlo Ancelotti's team also beat FC Zurich 3-1 in the first leg of the Uefa Cup's first round and only a major slump in Switzerland tomorrow will stop them reaching the group phase. "Milan is healthy again," said Ancelotti, whose job appeared in jeopardy after the first two losses. "We have picked up the pace again and have done some very good things in the past 10 days. In the derby we were stronger than Inter."
While Milan are on the climb, Tottenham remain rooted to the bottom of the English Premier League, and a 1-0 loss to Wisla Kraków tomorrow will mean an end to their Uefa Cup hopes. With only two points from six games in league action, coach Juande Ramos is under fire from Spurs fans who are upset at his team selections. However, Ramos is back in the familiar territory of the Uefa Cup, a competition he won in successive seasons with Spanish side Sevilla before he moved on to Tottenham 11 months ago.
This time he is under serious pressure. The fans are upset with his constant tinkering with the line-up and formations but Ramos explains that there are always reasons. "Ramon Pavlyuchenko and Vedran Corluka can't play in Europe, Ledley King can't play in every match, Gareth Bale is injured," said Ramos, whose team lost tamely 2-0 to Portsmouth on Sunday. "We have small injuries each week and I need to change three or four players every match."
While Spurs are last in the Premier League, Wisla Kraków top the Polish standings and are coming off a 4-0 league victory over Arka Gdynia. "Things aren't going well for them in the league right now," said the Wisla coach Maciej Skorza. "So they'll do everything to advance in the Uefa Cup." Everton are another English club under pressure. The Toffees only managed a 2-2 draw with Belgian club Standard Liege and have to go to Belgium for the second leg.
Standard came close to knocking Everton's Merseyside neighbours Liverpool out of the Champions League qualifying round, losing to an extra time goal. Manchester City, who have not won a major title since 1976, appears to be coasting into the next phase however. City, backed by new wealthy owners from Abu Dhabi and with the Brazilian forward Robinho in their ranks, are one of the favourites to win the Uefa Cup and leads Cypriot club AC Omonia 2-1 with home advantage.
Italy's Udinese hold a healthy 2-0 lead over Borussia Dortmund and play the second leg at home but Napoli travel to Benfica with a 3-2 first-leg lead but will be eliminated on the away goals rule if they lose 1-0 or 2-1. The Spanish league leaders Valencia should also progress to the group phase, holding a 1-0 lead over CS Maritimo of Portugal. *AP