MAX GRADEL is hoping to round off a vintage 2010-11 campaign with a cherished debut for Ivory Coast against Benin on Sunday.
Reigning YEP player of the year Gradel is eyeing a case of ‘second time lucky’ by being handed his full debut for Les Elephants in their African Cup of Nations qualifier in the Beninese capital of Cotonou – after being an unused sub in the 2-1 home victory over the same opponents at the end of March, his maiden call-up.
Also in the 22-man squad along with Gradel, who fired 18 goals in a scintalling campaign with United, are Chelsea duo Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou, along with Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure, Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue and Newcastle United target Gervinho, who recently celebrated winning the French Ligue 1 title with Lille.
Ranked 21 in the world, Ivory Coast, who have reached the last two World Cups and won the cup of nations in 1992, are breezing to qualification from Group H with nine points - with Benin trailing on four.
A trio of United players are busy on the international front this weekend, with striker Davide Somma hoping to feature for leaders South Africa in their Group G qualifier against rock-bottom Egypt in Cairo, also on Sunday.
Somma, who made his international debut against the USA in a friendly in November, was part of the Bafana Bafana side who beat Egypt earlier this year on home soil - and is eyeing a repeat.
He said: “I haven’t been to Egypt, but I saw their team when they were here that they looked good. I think we did well to beat them at Ellis Park and I don’t see a reason why we can’t do the same there.”
United no.1 Kasper Schmeichel will sample matchday involvement with the full Denmark squad for the first time tomorrow with they face Iceland in a 2012 European Championship qualifier in Reykjavik.
Schmeichel, son of Danish great Peter - who earned 128 caps in a 14-year international career - is set to be third-choice keeper behind Stoke City veteran Thomas Sorensen 34, and Brondby’s Stephan Andersen, 29.
But boss Morten Olsen was keen for Schmeichel jnr to get “a taste” of the national team sooner rather than later with his sights on the longer-term picture.
Meanwhile, United chairman Ken Bates says the club are happy to play a waiting game regarding summer transfer targets.
With holiday season in full swing in the football fraternity this month, Bates expects the real transfer activity to begin next month with little more than sparring taking place this month.
He said: “I think you’ll find at the moment there’s an awful lot of shadow boxing going on. Agents are saying: ‘Oh yes, my client has got three or four options which he is considering, what are you proposing?’. We don’t play that game because you just finish up being played off against other clubs. These agents don’t tell the truth very often.
“So at the moment, we are just playing a waiting game and that’s the most important thing. We know the kind of people that we want, and people (are) saying “Why are you taking free transfers?”, well what you don’t pay in transfer fees, you pay in wages. So you can sign very expensive players either way.”