Shot at history keeps Van der Sar focused

Having won the UEFA Champions League 13 years apart with AFC Ajax and Manchester United FC, Edwin van der Sar is now aiming to become part of the first team to retain European football's top prize in the modern era.

Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar is seeking a second successive title
Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar is seeking a second successive title ©Getty Images

As a man who has savoured UEFA Champions League triumphs with AFC Ajax and Manchester United FC 13 years apart, Edwin van der Sar has seen just about everything the competition has to offer. But there is something new the 38-year-old Dutchman could yet achieve – namely to become part of the first team to retain club football's most coveted prize in the modern era.

Van der Sar went close with Ajax when Louis van Gaal's titleholders reached the 1996 final against Juventus only to lose on penalties. The final that year was in Rome and with the big goalkeeper just a step away from returning to the Eternal City for this year's showpiece, he underlined his confidence that this United side have what it takes to succeed where Ajax failed 13 seasons ago.

'Better equipped'
"I think this side is much better equipped than we were with Ajax in '96," he said on the eve of United's semi-final first leg against Arsenal FC. "We had a lot of injuries, a lot of young players who had to fill gaps that were left by older players who had injuries and suspensions. So definitely. I won't say this is a bigger chance for me but we are better equipped to regain the trophy."

Sir Alex aim
The last club to retain the prize were AC Milan, European Champion Clubs' Cup winners in 1989 and 1990. Sir Alex Ferguson admitted he only learned this fact in the direct aftermath of last season's final. "When we won it last year that point was made at the press conference afterwards that no team had ever defended the trophy. I never knew that and I said to myself, 'It would be great if we could be the first ones to do that'. We are good at winning things for the first time and maybe that is a good omen for us."

'Stakes are high'
United made history as the first English team to enter the European Cup and the first to win it – not to mention the first English treble winners under Sir Alex. To get to another final, of course, they must first get past Premier League rivals Arsenal. "It is not just a Premier League game, it is a semi-final," said Van der Sar. "There is no question about that – the stakes are high, we want to reach Rome and both teams will do everything to make sure they are going to be there."

Defensive importance
If they are to better Arsenal, Van der Sar warned United would need to be at their best defensively against opponents who beat the champions 2-1 in north London in November. United have conceded twice in three of their last four games at Old Trafford – including Saturday's 5-2 defeat of Tottenham Hotspur FC. Van der Sar said: "Of course the whole team were not happy with the way we conceded on Saturday. It is important to make sure we keep them from scoring tomorrow."