Jury out on Dundee’s Euro experiment

This was the first competitive European fixture to sweep across the Dens Park turf for 27 years and, initially anyway, it seemed to be greeted with enough enthusiasm.

Queues snaked down Dens Road, and there was even some local rivalry to spice up the occasion, with a rather recognisable orange and black flag fluttering in the away end.

The 20 or so Sartid fans had been wined and dined in the Dens boardroom beforehand, but then threw such hospitality back in the faces of their hosts by sporting the colours of Dundee United. Still, at least they tried to rouse interest in the stands, which is more can be said for the players.

After a torpid 90 minutes, during which Dundee became re-acquainted with the often Machiavellian ways of continental sides, those who chose Dens Park ahead of more traditional high summer pursuits might have formed the opinion that the Celtics and Rangers of the world are welcome to European football on a regular basis.

This didn’t even feel like a competitive match, with neither goalkeeper forced to make saves of any great consequence. Curiously, with this being Dundee’s first European adventure since 1974 and their opponents’ first such fixture ever, there seemed little appetite for the fray, although the Yugoslav side did at least care enough to be accused afterwards of cheating by the home manager, Ivano Bonetti.

Time and time again their players went down after minor challenges. Time and time again they would be carted off the pitch, only to spring back on to their feet.

At one stage, Dundee’s Alessandro Romano simply hauled Dragan Radoeavijevic off the park by his ankles, with the game set to be held up again.

It was often comical, a feeling which was intensified by the Dens Tannoy offering up a blast of the William Tell Overture each time the stretcher-bearers were called into action.

Weirdness existed everywhere on Saturday. If it wasn’t the mass of photographers behind the Sartid goal - the nearest game of competitive football was, after all, in Wales, where Dundee’s Intertoto Cup brethren, Carmarthen, were involved in a similar tale of stalemate against AIK Solna - then it was the door marked "UEFA delegate" inside the Dens main stand. Intrigue was everywhere, except where it should have been.

It is, though, certain to be more exciting in the second leg this Saturday, something Sartid player Boris Vaskovic assured us afterwards. He trotted out the old line about how Dundee can "expect hell" in Smederevo.

"The ground is only supposed to hold 15,000, but there will be 20,000 there easily," he said, something the "UEFA delegate" might be interested to hear. There he expects Sartid to "complete the job" and progress through to a second-round meeting with Munich 1860.

Dens manager Bonetti was not, however, too disheartened by the draw, nor the prospect of saving the tie in Smederevo, where Sartid have lost only once in 18 months. Dundee, by contrast, have not won an away game in competitive European football since defeating AB Copenhagen in 1971, in the UEFA Cup.

Not that they have to win in Yugoslavia. As Bonetti pointed out, a 1-1 draw will be good enough to send Dundee through, but to achieve even this they will need to perform with far more vigour than on Saturday.

Bonetti thinks they will, having reaped the benefits of another six days’ training.

"I was not expecting more than this after only six days’ work," the manager said, not unreasonably.

Dundee were further handicapped by the absence of Georgian pair Georgi Nemsadze and Zura Khizanishvili, still recuperating after World Cup qualifying exertions, and Beto Carranza, who is back in Argentina awaiting the birth of his baby.

The wide choice of pizzas on sale in the Bobby Cox Stand were advertised as having been "selected by Ivano Bonetti", but the manager had fewer options when it came to picking his team, with only 17 first-team players currently at Dens. Even he was forced to wheeze through the last 20 minutes.

While Bonetti saw the result in context, not everyone at Dens was being so charitable. It may be summer, but the gripes were as biting as the unseasonal weather. "You should have stayed on honeymoon," Javier Artero, who had cut short his post-wedding idyll in a bid to help steer Dundee through this tournament, was told.

He was one of a few home players not yet on his game, although the speedy Spaniard was picked out by the Sartid manager, Jovica Skoro, as being among Dundee’s more impressive performers.

Skoro is clearly quite a character and was candid about the tactics his side employed. Asked whether any of his players were actually seriously injured on the numerous times they fell theatrically to the ground, he replied that it was just a question of attitude.

"We watch a lot of British football in Yugoslavia, and so I know that physical contact is a normal thing. With our players, even if they get a little bit hurt, they think psychologically about the consequences and go down," he explained.

He accepted it may be annoying for the crowd, but stopped just short of saying he couldn’t give a tinker’s curse what they thought.

Skoro is a former giant of football in Yugoslavia and once scored a hat-trick for Napredak against Tottenham Hotspur back in "the golden days of interesting friendlies". Now, he added, "it is just boring competitive matches". This was closer to the target than anyone had managed during what was a cheerless afternoon.

Dundee: Langfield, Smith, Marrocco, Rae, Wilkie, Coyne, Artero, Romano, Sara (Caballero 62), Garrido (Bonetti 71), Robertson (Milne 46). Subs Not Used: Soutar, Del Rio, Fatello. Booked: Coyne.

FK Sartid: Lukic, Glogovac, Radoeavuevic, Aleksic, Mrdak, Socanac, Bogdanovic (Panic 87), Vaskovic, Zecevic (Paunovic 90), Ramovic, Mircsavijevic (Antunovic 77). Subs Not Used: Rankovic, Savic, Krizmanic, Balaban. Booked: Ramovic.