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United begin quest to reach home

Published: Wednesday 18 September 2002, 10.42CET
With May's final at Old Trafford, Manchester United FC are desperate to impress this season.

Tournament statistics

Man. UnitedM. Haifa

Goals scored32
Attempts on target102
Attempts off target72
Fouls committed202
Yellow cards26
Red cards0

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Published: Wednesday 18 September 2002, 10.42CET

United begin quest to reach home

With May's final at Old Trafford, Manchester United FC are desperate to impress this season.

By Greg Demetriou

Manchester United FC are desperate to excel again in the UEFA Champions League after last year's semi-final exit to Bayer 04 Leverkusen.

Poles apart
United, who went out to the German team on the away-goals rule following a 3-3 aggregate score, welcome Maccabi Haifa to Old Trafford for their first Group F encounter after both were forced to qualify, clearly more of an indignity for United than Maccabi. United, winners in 1999 and unbeaten in their last 12 Champions League outings, have played 80 games in the competition, two more than nine-times winners Real Madrid CF. The visitors, meanwhile, are the first side from Israel ever to reach the group stage.

'Confidence is good'
Despite two successive domestic defeats, United manager Sir Alex Ferguson claims morale is high as his team embark on another European journey - one he doubtless hopes will end on the familiar turf of Old Trafford, venue for next May's final. "I think confidence is good," he said. "We have to try and improve on our finishing but we're playing very well."

Forlán hope
Ferguson is keeping faith with forwards Ruud van Nistelrooij and Ole Gunnar Solskjær, with Uruguayan forward Diego Forlán, yet to score for United, the preferred alternative. "I’m trying to concentrate on getting the partnership of Van Nistelrooij and Solskjær off the ground but Diego will play his part," Ferguson added.

Butt blow
The Scot will make only one change to his lineup from Saturday's 1-0 defeat by Leeds United AFC. A hip injury has ruled out Nicky Butt, who joins Roy Keane and Paul Scholes on the midfield casualty list. However, Juan Sebastián Veron is fit after a groin problem and should play. Gary Neville, whose 68 appearances in the Champions League are unsurpassed, could be on the bench after recovering from a broken foot.

Ayegbini suspended
Maccabi, who opened their season with a 5-0 demolition of Hapoel Kfar-Saba last Saturday, will be without suspended Nigerian striker Yakubu Ayegbini. Coach Itzhak Shum, however, said he was "sleeping like a baby" in the lead-up to the game, but nonetheless joked he was "waking up every hour". According to the coach, his charges have no reason to be afraid, claiming that the "team is not built around one player".

Attacking promise
There is just one more snag for the former Israel coach. Lithuanian international Raimondas Zutauttas has a muscle strain in his thigh and is sidelined. Yet the coach is in determined mood and said: "Our aim is to attack as much as we can but if Manchester United push players forward then we may have to defend."

Plenty of experience
Shum refused to accept that playing in front of 67,000 fans would faze his team. "Many of our players have been in the national side and have played in various countries in Europe," he said. "They do have the experience."

Last updated: 18/09/02 20.46CET