NEWCASTLE United's sun-soaked stars were last night stunned to learn they must cut short their summer holidays after UEFA handed them a shock Intertoto Cup reprieve.

United, who missed out on a place in the competition a fortnight ago through the fairplay lottery, saw their European dreams dramatically rekindled when Spanish side Malaga withdrew.

UEFA then offered the spare spot to the FA, who nominated 11th-placed Newcastle as next-best-finishers in the Premier League behind fellow Intertoto entrants Aston Villa.

The Magpies now face being back in competitive action as early as 23 days' time - five weeks before the Premiership season kicks off on August 18. And they could be chasing the prize of a place in the UEFA Cup with more than half their first-choice team ruled out.

Skipper Alan Shearer and Kieron Dyer will miss the start of the season, while Carl Cort, Robert Lee and Clarence Acuna are also injury worries and Nolberto Solano is due to be on Copa America duty with Peru.

Shearer for one won't be happy to hear that United have taken up the Intertoto invitation.

In his programme notes for the final game of the season against Villa, he said: "I'm delighted we're not in the Intertoto Cup.

"I have to be honest and say I don't think it's a good move to be in a tournament that starts in mid-July.

"The last thing you want is to be playing early doors and getting injured for the start of the season.''

However, the chance of a lucrative UEFA Cup run has proved too tempting for Bobby Robson's side.

United seem certain to meet either Belgium's Sporting Lokeren or Polish side Zaglebie Lubin over two legs in the Intertoto third round.

But former United full-back John Beresford, a hero of previous European campaigns, last night warned that the venture could undermine the Magpies' Premiership prospects.

West Ham reached the UEFA Cup via the Intertoto two years ago but struggled last season when they flirted with relegation.

Beresford said: "Newcastle will have to send out search parties to pick up all the players.

"The last thing they will want after a hard season is something like this. I know how I would react if I was lying on a beach and got a call to get back to training.

"I can see both sides of the argument because I can understand the club wanting to get into Europe -- football is big business these days.

"But at this rate it'll be going on all year round.

"The last thing on players' minds will be preparing for big games, because they'll all be knackered.

"And it could backfire if they get through - you saw what happened to West Ham last season.''

Newcastle were not due to start pre-season training until just over a week before their first Intertoto game, which will be away on the weekend of July 14/15.

And Greek international defender Nikos Dabizas admitted: "This has come as a massive surprise. I'm sure it will lead to a big change in our preparation.

"But it gives us a chance of qualifying for Europe so we have to look at it as a good thing.''

Sunderland's loss could be United's gain - the Wearsiders finished seventh in the Premiership but spurned the chance to enter the Intertoto. United's chief operating officer Russell Cushing said: "If we achieve a UEFA Cup spot through this competition it would be a tremendous boost for the club.

"The number of Premier League clubs who nominated themselves for the competition this year underlines the importance of playing in the competition."

Newcastle have been forced to call off their tour of Sweden, where they were scheduled to play Gothenburg and either Bayer Leverkusen or Hertha Berlin, because of a clash with the Intertoto.

The competition, which gives three clubs entry into the UEFA Cup, kicked off last weekend with first round, first leg games.

United will be at home in the second leg of round three on Sunday, July 21.

But first they face a trip, with Lokeren or Lubin likely opponents. Lokeren beat B68 Toftir from the Faroe Islands 4-2 in their away leg last Saturday, while Lubin overcame Malta's Hibernians 4-0 in their home leg 24 hours later.

Lokeren just missed out on a UEFA Cup place when they finished fourth in the Belgian League behind Anderlecht, Brugge and Standard Liege, while Lubin were sixth in the Polish top flight.

The third round of the Intertoto involves 24 clubs, eight of which are seeded (including Newcastle and Villa) with the 12 winners progressing to the semi-finals.

The six semi victors go through to the finals where three matches are played and the winners all qualify for the UEFA Cup first round.

* Intertoto dates for the later stages: Semi-finals, first leg (July 25), second leg (August 1); final, first leg (August 7), second leg (August 21)

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