Football: Campaign unites Englishmen: Manchester's finest aim to produce more delights against the Turkish champions to help ease the post-Rotterdam depression

MANCHESTER UNITED'S England men returned from Rotterdam with tails lodged firmly between their legs but, good pedigree chums that they are, a brisk walk soon restored their spirits, and the European Cup will have them straining at the leash when Galatasaray come calling at Old Trafford tonight.

Alex Ferguson admitted yesterday that Paul Ince, Gary Pallister and Lee Sharpe had all been lower than a dachshund's derriere in the aftermath of the World Cup catastrophe in the Netherlands, but their reaction had filled him with admiration, and there was no question of any hangover, he said.

'The three of them were in really bad shape when they came back to us on Thursday morning. I didn't work them. I just took them for a walk around the training ground and had a quiet chat with them.

'I told them that what happened was a big disappointment for everyone but that it wasn't the end of the world. They still had challenges to meet with their club, the most important of which is to get through into the Champions' League.'

Only two of the three players had the opportunity to demonstrate their mental resilience at the weekend, Ince missing the win over Tottenham which took United seven points clear at the top of the Premiership with an ankle injury sustained in the Feyenoord stadium.

To managerial relief, the man who put the motor in midfield dynamo will be back tonight, competitive as ever, when the champions will be doing it for England. Not forgetting Denmark, France, Wales and the Republic of Ireland, and quite possibly Russia, too.

His team's cosmopolitan make-up enabled Ferguson to lighten the mood at an interviewer's expense yesterday - and at the same time make a very valid point.

'It's an awkward time for managers just now,' he said. 'I was on TV this morning, and all these guys want to talk about is how bad England are. This fella said: 'You play good football, why can't England play good football?' I came back with a beauty, killed him stone dead. I said: 'We pick from the whole of Europe - Russians, Danes, French, Irish, Scots - we've got the whole lot.' '

True enough, and the perfect riposte to those seeking to square the circle by equating club and international football.

The League of Nations assembly does present occasional problems, like who to leave out under the five-foreigners rule. Roy Keane was unlucky against Honved in the first round. This time it is likely to be another Irishman - Dennis Irwin, with Sharpe switching to left-back.

Using the thin pretext of minor injuries, Ferguson has chosen not to give the Turks notice of his team, but was prepared to confirm that Keane would definitely play.

'For this game, given the way Galatasaray play (5-3-2) it is important to have strength and running power in the middle of the park. Roy showed plenty of that on Saturday.'

United have watched the Turkish champions three times recently, Ferguson travelling to the Black Sea for their match against Trabzonspor, only to find them at half- strength. The scouting missions identified Turkey's tall centre-forward, Hakan, and his speedy partner, Turkyilmaz, plus Tugay, the international midfielder, as the main threat.

The Turks have a reputation for hot-blooded histrionics, and strong refereeing would be needed, Ferguson felt. 'They will come here rolling around, doing a bit of play-acting and trying to kill the game. They'll be up to all the dodges.'

Strong refereeing? The omens are not good. Peter Mikkelsen is in charge - the not-so-great Dane who missed the Jan Wouters assault on Paul Gascoigne at Wembley, and gave the Dutch a penalty for a foul Des Walker committed outside the area. 'He was good to Holland that night, all right,' Ferguson growled.

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