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United bullish about Barcelona test

Sir Alex Ferguson is urging his Manchester United FC side to seize a "marvellous chance" to progress to the Moscow final at the expense of visitors FC Barcelona.

Opportunity knocks for Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford on Tuesday
Opportunity knocks for Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford on Tuesday ©Getty Images

Sir Alex Ferguson has called on his Manchester United FC side to seize a "marvellous chance" to reach the UEFA Champions League final in the deciding leg of their semi-final against FC Barcelona.

Test of nerve
After eight months and 990 minutes of on-field endeavour, it all boils down to who holds their nerve at Old Trafford. United fell at this stage to AC Milan last spring, a third loss in four previous semi-finals under Sir Alex, but the Scot believes they have what it takes to prevail after last Wednesday's 0-0 draw in Spain. "We've got big-game players, we've got players who can win matches," said Sir Alex, who has overseen eleven straight home wins in Europe. United's manager rated their first-leg display as "probably our poorest in Europe this season" but, after another cautious showing in Saturday's 2-1 reverse at Chelsea FC, United will surely revert to attacking type. "I think it'll be more open than it was at the Nou Camp and it could go either way, but I think we are going into the game with a marvellous chance. It will be tactical at times but there will be times when there will be the explosions of play that we expect from our team."

Domestic strife
Defeat by Chelsea has given the Premier League leaders their worst sequence since August – three matches without victory – but Sir Alex responded bullishly to suggestions their fortunes were waning. "We are sitting here right now with two [league] games left, we've a semi-final, a home game on Saturday and a game against Wigan away – disaster," he smiled. Certainly, his Barcelona counterpart Frank Rijkaard would gladly trade places. Saturday's 2-0 loss at RC Deportivo La Coruña was Barcelona's third goalless game and left them with just one win in eleven domestic outings. "I prefer to concentrate on the present – we have a very important game, we will be fighting our hardest to make sure things go well and we can draw a conclusion on the season later," said the Dutchman.

Puyol returns
Rijkaard guided the Blaugrana to a 2006 final victory over Arsenal FC but his two other UEFA Champions League campaigns with Barcelona ended on English soil, against Chelsea FC (2005) and Liverpool FC (2007). Predicting a tight contest, he added: "We have to score at the very least and it is important to impose our own game – to be brave and get hold of the ball and not let them impose their game." It waits to be seen whether Rijkaard, who welcomes back Carles Puyol in place of the suspended Rafael Márquez, will retain Andrés Iniesta on the left or give Thierry Henry the chance to renew his rivalry with United.

Opportunity knocks
If Europe presents Rijkaard and Barcelona with a path to redemption after a difficult season, Sir Alex will know that, at 66, opportunities like this may not knock too many more times for him. He is convinced his reign should have brought "more success in Europe" – specifically, the UEFA Champions League – than that solitary 1999 triumph. Twelve months ago United hit the wall in Milan. Twice before, meanwhile, they slipped up at home after first-leg stalemates – in quarter-finals against AS Monaco FC (1997) and Real Madrid CF (2000). Against this backdrop of past disappointments, he could have done without concerns over the fitness of Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidić, who missed training on Monday with respective hip and mouth injuries sustained at Chelsea. "Both could make it but I can't be certain about that," he said.