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Manchester United FC must hope that the Portuguese championship monopolises the thoughts of Boavista FC on Tuesday when the pair meet at the Bessa stadium in Porto. Without the UEFA Champions League's joint leading goalscorer Ruud van Nistelrooij, Roy Keane and Juan Sebastián Veron, the English champions are not best equipped to pull off the victory they will probably need if they are to win Group A and avoid one of the favourites in the quarter-finals.
Fortunately for United, the competition is now of secondary importance to Boavista, who are concentrating their efforts on holding on to their 1. Liga title. They trail Sporting Club de Portugal by a point after beating CD Santa Clara 2-0 last Saturday and Jaime Pacheco, the Boavista coach, is expected to rest several players for the game against United. Boavista and Sporting meet in nine days' time.
The main concern of United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is the fitness of Veron. There are fears that the Argentinian midfield player has broken a bone in his foot. He injured the heel in the Champions League game against FC Bayern München last week and got another kick on it against West Ham United FC at the weekend. "It's pretty delicate so we are sending him for a scan and hopefully there is nothing broken," said Ferguson.
Van Nistelrooij doubts
Van Nistelrooij and Keane - the United captain is within one yellow card of a suspension - are also out with hip and groin injuries for a game which United will probably need to win. They need to match whatever result the European champions Bayern get at home to FC Nantes Atlantique in order to finish top of the group. United will be particularly keen to avoid either of the Spanish clubs, Real Madrid CF and RC Deportivo La Coruña, both of whom have won at Old Trafford in recent times, in the next round.
Boavista have proved a hard side to beat at home in the competition, winning four and drawing three of their last seven home games. Their only ever defeat at home was in their first Champions League game, against Rosenborg BK three seasons ago. Liverpool FC could only manage a 1-1 draw there earlier this season and United have only ever scored on one occasion in four visits to the country.
Victory in December
The absent Van Nistelrooij scored twice in the 3-0 home defeat of Boavista in December. In the Portuguese league, the Boavista defence have proved rather more difficult to penetrate, conceding just one goal in their last ten games.
Boavista needed to win in Nantes last week to keep alive their European hopes but could manage only a 1-1 draw. Martelinho scored the second-half equaliser, but also had a goal controversially disallowed by Scottish referee Hugh Dallas.
"Even though we are out of the Champions League, we want to win this last match against Manchester United for our prestige and end the competition with dignity," said Pacheco.
United come into the game in good goalscoring form, having won 5-3 at West Ham on Saturday. Ferguson was particularly delighted with the form of David Beckham, the England captain. "He has been magnificent in the past few weeks," he said. "He is back to the David Beckham we all want to see." Whether he is the David Beckham that Boavista want to see is another matter.
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