Oliver Phillips reports from the Rigamonti Ceppi Stadium

IN what briefly threatened to be more of an event than a truly serious football match, Watford did well to hold Inter Milan to a 2-1 victory in Lecco during a humid evening on Tuesday, July 31.

The appearance of Brazilian ace Ronaldo, escorted by police to take his place in the stand before the kick off, brought the biggest cheer of the night from the fans, many of whom, like Watford, were hoping to catch him in action.

Despite the disappointment, the game was no anti-climax.

The Hornets were always playing second fiddle, but emerged with great credit, for the Italian giants made eight changes in the course of the second half, presenting the Hornets with a conveyor belt of fresh, enthusiastic and inventive opponents.

While Inter's ultimate focus may not have been as sharp, there was no lack of commitment in their approach as they sought to impress the new coach from Valencia, Hector Cuper. Watford were similarly applying themselves, although by using only four substitutes, it resulted in a good work-out, witnessed by nearly 5,000 fans.

Inter, in fact, had the game won in the first ten minutes after the break when they stepped up the tempo and broke through twice to score. Watford duly responded but, as Vialli said, the visitors' game had an underlying element of damage limitation, but they moved the ball about quite well, and with some confidence on occasions, although they seldom really threatened the Italian goal.

In this respect, Watford were without the injured Tommy Smith, Nordin Wooter and Allan Nielsen, so they did not have the full range of attacking options at their disposal, but then Inter were also missing Ronaldo.

It is the first time I have seen the new men on parade and Stephen Hughes looked impressive in midfield, particularly as he has just recovered from a virus infection which left him a little shorter than the rest in training work-outs.

At the back Filippo Galli looked a class act, affording himself time to deal with problems, despite the quality of the opposition. While there may be a question mark about his legs lasting the full rigours of a season, he carried himself in a manner belying his 38 years, still demonstrating there is no substitute for experience.

Micah Hyde appears to have forced his way through into the reckoning and was duly delighted with his man-of-the-match award, and the scoring of Watford's first goal in 180 minutes in Italy.

After 64 seconds, Paul Robinson fell foul of the referee, somewhat harshly I feel, for the full back won a fair, but hard challenge to send Sergio Conceicao sprawling.

Inter made most of the early running but Watford stuck to their task. They were fortunate when centre half and skipper Laurent Blanc sent a free header straight to Espen Baardsen's feet, Christian Vieri fired over, and Nicola Ventola dispatched a shot in a similar direction.

Then Vieri curled a well-struck free kick which went round the wall and smacked against the foot of the post, and a Ventola header was cleared near the line.

Next Vieri went through and shot after Hyde was disposessed in midfield, but the clearest first half chance fell when Vieri set up Ventola for an angled shot, but his colleague decided to return the complement and the ball was passed beyond the striker and the post.

Inter stepped up the pressure after the break. After two minutes, substitute Stephane Dalmat sped through the heart of the defence and clipped the ball into the path of Sierre Leone's Mohamed Kallon, who sent a blistering finish from the edge of the box to give Baardsen no chance.

Conceicao was played in by Kallon to hammer the ball just behind the target but, in the 55th minute, he cut in after selling Robinson a massive dummy, and his low shot appeared to beat the keeper for pace.

Watford rallied and Dominic Foley went close when he attacked the heart of the defence, and was just wide with a 30-yard lob, which caught the keeper off his line.

Paolo Vernazza had a drive deflected just wide before Stephen Glass sent over a 60th minute cross and Heidar Helguson climbed well to nod down. Hyde was free and picked his spot with a raking shot into the opposite corner of the net.

The remaining exchanges remained even if undistinctive.

A hot night, despite the 9pm kick-off, and a useful work-out for the Hornets with a little bit of prestige thrown in, for apart from one tournament involving Barcelona in 1984, Watford have not had such a prestigious pre-season friendly.

Watford: Baardsen; Blondeau (Ifil, 45), Galli (Ward, 80), Vega, Robinson; Vernazza, Hyde, Hughes (Noble, 56), Glass; Helguson, Noel-Williams (Foley, 37).

Inter Milan: Toldo (Fontana, 68); J. Zanetti (Vivas, 63), Blanc (Simic, 45), Materazzi, Geogatos; Conceicaco (Okan, 69), C. Zanetti (Seedorf, 45), Emre (Dalmat, 45), Guglielminpietro; Vieri (Kallon, 45), Ventola (Pacheco, 74).

*Watford went down 1-0 in a friendly on Saturday against Serie C side Frosinone, watched by a crowd of 1,000.

Played in the early evening on a bumpy pitch, the scoreline was not a fair reflection of the exchanges.

Glass hit the post with a chipped shot, and both Helguson and Foley went close to scoring.

Vialli had contemplated playing 10 versus the home side's 11, but opted for 11-a-side in the end.

Watford: Baardsen; Blondeau, Galli (Ward), Vega (Panayi), Robinson; Glass, Hyde, Vernazza (Hughes), Nielsen; Helguson (Foley), Noel-Williams.

August 3, 2001 11:05

By Oliver Phillips