Continental fare the order of the day

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 October, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 October, 1998, 12:00am

IN the battle for regional TV ratings there are few better weapons than the Premier League.

That's why Wharf Sports splashed out a fortune to snare Hong Kong rights to the Monday night game (plus selected midweek games). As they already had the Saturday and Sunday rights this gave Wharf a stranglehold on coverage of the English league.

It's a proven product which is sure to deliver a number of high-quality entertainment experiences (or matches as we used to call them). Even if the matches haven't been so great so far this season they will come good in time.

Anyway you only need look at all the people on Hong Kong's streets wearing replica Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle kits to see that a strong sense of brand loyalty is already being developed.

But variety is the spice of life and if a solid diet of the English game isn't entirely to your taste here's some good news. You can set aside the fish and chips and try some pasta and paella instead.

For after a few drab weeks of its own the Italian League coverage sprang to life last weekend with a double dose of thrills and controversy as Milan beat Roma and Juventus beat Inter. The Blackburn v Arsenal match sandwich-ed in between was pretty drab by comparison.

And now ESPN-STAR add an extra Mediterranean dish to our diet with the introduction of live Spanish League action.

It's a chance to see whether this rich, cosmopolitan competition really has any competitiveness outside of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Real Zaragoza and Valencia have made ripples in Europe before but it always seems to come back to the big two. That said, who heads the league standings at the moment? Mallorca.

There are live Spanish games on Saturday and Sunday nights. ESPN have Zaragoza v Valencia while STAR feature Deportivo la Coruna v surprise leaders Mallorca at the same time on Saturday night. On Sunday ESPN have Extremadura v Real Madrid. The good news is that ithey do not clash with the weekend's English games.

Next midweek sees the return to Euro club action again with Matchday Four in the Champions' League and second-round second legs in both the UEFA Cup and Cup-Winners' Cup.

The live UEFA Cup tie on Tuesday night (Wednesday wee hours) is Leeds v Roma. The Italian club won the first leg 1-0 with a goal by Marco Delvecchio but Leeds had to play the second half with 10 men after Bruno Ribeiro's dismissal. Bearing in mind how Leeds struggled to score at home to Maritimo in the previous round, it will be interesting to see what tactical innovations new manager David O'Leary comes up with to break down the visitors' defence. Fear of conceding an away goal must be on Leeds' minds.

In the Cup-Winners' Cup on Friday morning Lazio travel to face Partizan Belgrade . Lazio are the ?70 million men with the likes of Marcelo Salas, Ivan De La Pena, Dejan Stankovic, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Fernando Couto, Sergio Conceicao and Christian Vieri all new arrivals this season. Despite that wealth of talent this tie is deadlocked at 0-0.

And in the delayed game, holders Chelsea travel to face FC Copenhagen after only scraping a 1-1 home draw thanks to a Marcel Desailly equaliser deep into injury time. The Danish game is in a bit of a trough after the national team's loss to Wales and Brondby's humiliation by Manchester United. Could the Blues be about to feel the backlash?