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ALBANIA captain Rudi Vata thinks his country will give England a shock at St James' Park on Wednesday.

"We have nothing to lose," said Vata. "And if we win, or even just get a good result, we will get something like pounds 15,000 each."

Vata (left), like most of his team-mates, plays abroad but the win bonus is more than five times the average yearly wage for a player in Albania. The former Celtic defender added: "It is a lot of money back home, but we are playing, first and foremost, for our pride.

"Many people expect England to roll us over. But we have no chance of qualifying for the World Cup finals, which takes the pressure off us and puts it on England."

The Albanians will also be spurred on by a sense of injustice following their 3-1 home defeat by Sven Goran Eriksson's men in March. Vata added: "I missed the match in Tirana through suspension but we were very unlucky. We had lost to Germany a few days earlier due to a late goal which was offside. Then at 2-1 down against England we had a good goal ruled out for offside, before England added another. It was a huge disappointment. But we just need a bit of luck and we can cause an upset in Newcastle."

The 31-year-old is looking forward to returning to Britain after spending five years in Glasgow between 1991 and 1995. "I know many Scots will want Albania to win. I regard Scotland as my second home - I met my wife while I was at Celtic and I'd love to go back, or play in England."

Now starring for German outfit Energie Cottbus, Vata defected to the West 10 years ago from the old communist regime. "Our country has been through a lot, which is why football means so much to us. I am very proud to be captain of my country."

Now Vata is looking forward to facing players he admires. "I think Paul Scholes is England's best player. Everyone goes on about David Beckham, but Scholes is very hard-working. Michael Owen is very quick and I also rate Emile Heskey up front. He is a good striker, a very powerful man who is hard to stop.

"But we, too, have good players. In attack, Igli Tare's height and technique are both good - although English defenders will deal well with balls in the air so we must play the ball on the ground.

"Geri Cipi, who replaced me in Tirana, is another fine player. We will, however, badly miss Bledar Kola's creative skills because he is injured."

Win, lose or draw, Vata is determined to finally meet a childhood idol at St James' Park. And no, it's not Bobby Robson.

He says: "Norman Wisdom is still a huge star in Albania. I didn't play in the last match so I didn't get the chance to see him. But this time I'm sure I will - if he makesan appearance."


SCHOLE-DEN GOAL: Paul Scholes scores in the 3-1 win in Tirana
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 2, 2001
Next Article:Football: It's simply the stuff of legends as Sven leads England up a stairway to heaven; WORLD CUP SPECIAL: ENGLAND IN WONDERLAND.

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