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By Steve Bryant in Istanbul
The only issue left in UEFA Champions League Group D is whether Manchester United FC can hold on to first place, but guaranteed UEFA Cup entrants Fenerbahçe SK are determined to play for pride and revenge against the English club.
United may require victory to ensure they hold off fellow qualifiers Olympique Lyonnais but they travelled to Istanbul without many of their established stars. Absent are world-class talents such as Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ruud van Nistelrooij and Wayne Rooney - the latter having scored a hat-trick on his United debut in their 6-2 victory against Fenerbahçe in September which went a long way to sealing their respective fates.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson is aiming to give top-level football to keen young players, as he did with the side that defeated Arsenal FC 1-0 in the English League Cup last week, but Fenerbahçe coach Christoph Daum said he was still expecting to face a team of the highest quality. "Even if a team like Manchester United has eight or ten players missing, they still have the strength in their squad to fill those gaps," he said.
'Nine full internationals'
Sir Alex himself denied that he had brought a weakened side to Istanbul, having already secured a place in the first knockout round with a win against Lyon on Matchday 5. "I do not think it is any weaker," he said. "It is not the recognised first team but
I think no one should underestimate Manchester United. They will be playing to win. And I should point out that the side I will play has nine full internationals."
David Bellion will probably lead the United attack with support from Cristiano Ronaldo - the only player remaining from Saturday's starting lineup that defeated Southampton FC. United will top the group unless they fail to win in Istanbul and Lyon defeat visitors AC Sparta Praha, but the issue of ensuring his team plays a second-placed finisher in the next round does not bother Sir Alex.
'Playing to win'
"The competition is now at the stage where all the big names are there," he said. "I do not think that playing a first or second-placed team will make all that much difference, but we will be playing to win because winning is important to the club."
Daum's side defeated Sparta a fortnight ago to ensure third place and a UEFA Cup campaign, even as United's win ended their hopes of progress in the Champions League. Fenerbahçe are without Dutch striker Pierre van Hooijdonk, who is injured, while defender Deniz Baris and midfield player Kemal Aslan also look likely to miss out. Striker Márcio Nobre has a bad case of flu.
Short of options
"Ideally I would have liked more options," Daum said. "A [fit] Pierre van Hooijdonk would have been very nice and it is a shame about Deniz and Kemal." But he insisted that Fenerbahçe were still sore after their heavy defeat in Manchester and saw the match as an important chance to restore some honour, as well as taking the opportunity, like their visitors, to give younger players invaluable experience.
This may not be a defining match but it is very important in terms of image, in terms of our standing and a range of other reasons. I always try to field the best side I can," he said. "We have players who are only just entering their most productive periods. I think they will be a great help for us in achieving future growth."
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