Football: Ferguson `confident' of making progress

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The Independent Online
While three defeats in five games scarcely seems like a platform from which to reach the Champions' League quarter-finals, Alex Ferguson remains confident that Manchester United and Juventus can deliver the requisite combination of results for his team to advance on 4 December.

Juventus are already through, but the United manager had "absolute confidence'' they would not be soft-pedalling in their last Group C fixture at home to Fenerbahce.

"I know I've questioned one or two teams' commitment in he past, but there's no doubt about Juventus.

"What you've seen tonight is a fantastic work ethic. Everyone in their team earned his money, everybody's prepared to run the extra yard. They showed why they won the European Cup. They've got threat and experience in all the right places.''

The same night United play Rapid Vienna, who are out of the running for a place in the last eight but still have a considerable incentive to perform well. Each point in the Champions' League earns a pounds 500,000 windfall from Uefa. As Ferguson observed: "The prize-money could still be important to them.''

He added: "We've got to go to Austria with the attitude that we can win. Hopefully we'll have Gary Pallister and Denis Irwin back and they're important players for us. We don't have any yellow cards hanging over us, and there are no real injuries apart from Phil Neville. We've still got a great chance.''

The early loss of the younger Neville with a hamstring strain affected United's balance, exposing the fact that the substitutes' bench was top heavy with forwards and forcing them to switch Roy Keane to defence. "But I couldn't have asked for any more from them,'' Ferguson said. "The speed and passing improved to a really high level in the second half, and not many teams will make that many chances against Juventus.''

He admitted that for once, a British club could not look enviously at the easy build-up their opponents had enjoyed. Juventus played on Sunday night, on a heavy pitch and against Milan, of all teams, giving United nearly 36 hours longer to recover. '' I thought it told on them in the last 15 minutes,'' Ferguson said.

Marcello Lippi, the Juventus coach, pointed out that his side had also endured an "awful'' plane journey from Turin and did not arrive at the stadium because of problems with their police escort.

"I am very proud that we're the first Italian team to win at Old Trafford,'' he said. "We dominated the game technically, though we had to put up with strong pressing by Manchester. Their supporters helped them - they were fantastic the way they kept up the noise for 90 minutes.''

Lippi also remarked - provocatively - "the best Frenchmen'' were in his team, going on to suggest that Zinedine Zidane had enjoyed his finest game in the zebra stripes yet he offered hope to United: "Juventus will play in the usual positive manner against Fenerbahce. We never go out thinking we'll settle for one point.''