'Slighted' Evra stands by racist abuse claims


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There is a happy precedent about Manchester United failing to win either of their first two Champions League group stage games. Only in the season of 1998-99 have they done the same in the modern era and no one needs reminding what that campaign led on to.

But comparisons can be superficial. Draws against Benfica and Basle are a different proposition to those against Barcelona and Bayern Munich which opened United's victorious 1999 campaign. While the 3-3 draw in the Nou Camp that year told United how far they had come since the 4-0 defeat in 1994, the same scoreline against Basle has contributed to the sense that United, with three draws in four, have lost a little of that August momentum.

One of the United manager Sir Alex Ferguson's persistent themes is that every modest European side knows how to handle the major ones these days and, with his side third in a delicately balanced group, it is likely that Wayne Rooney will be unleashed on Otelul Galati this evening. Ferguson said he kept Rooney out of Saturday's Anfield tie because of the devastation of his three-game international ban, though his 21-minute role in midfield told him what he needed to know. "Actually, when he came on he was quite bubbly," Ferguson said.

"He was full of energy and enthusiasm, desperate to get on. He'll be playing tomorrow. He didn't expect [the ban.] It was a silly action but it wasn't seriously dangerous. It was a slight reaction. But to get a three-match ban ... when he realised it meant missing all the games for England and he might not be involved at all, that resonated in Wayne's mind."

There could be pitfalls here. Though the infrastructure of Otelul's stadium failed Uefa's standards, forcing the club to play here at the National Arena, the Bucharest stadium staff have been working to rectify what has been described locally as "a pitch disaster". Ferguson said he was relaxed about the pitch, having watched a recording of Otelul's 1-0 defeat to Benfica.

The draw against Basle prompted a sharp response from a manager who last night again accused his side of "complacency" in that match. "We are disappointed with the position we are in," Ferguson said. "It's not a tournament where you can afford to be complacent and tomorrow night is important for us."