Martin Lipton reports.
Alex Ferguson feels he already has a squad that can repeat the feat of Sir Matt Busby's side 30 years ago and claim the greatest prize in European club football.
But as he returned home from yet another Turin defeat yesterday, the Manchester United manager revealed he is prepared to strengthen his ranks if he thinks it could mean the elusive prize coming back to Old Trafford.
Under Champions' League rules, Ferguson has until 31 January to register two more players with Uefa, which would allow them to play in the knock- out stages. And Ferguson admitted: "There's no certainty about it, but we have been looking at certain things and it's possible we will buy before the deadline. We always look to try to strengthen the squad. This is a good opportunity to buy two players, but nothing's certain."
One who could be among the incomers is the Chilean striker Marcelo Salas. Ferguson has already been out to Santiago to watch the River Plate player in World Cup action, and he again rebuffed the suggestion that he had decided against making a move for the pounds 10m-rated player. "I've never said the deal was off," he maintained. "We'll go and watch him again, but he might not play in the position we need."
Ferguson was critical of his defence in Turin, but the fact is that even without Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Andy Cole, United held out against a desperate Juventus team for 84 minutes until Filippo Inzaghi found a way past Peter Schmeichel.
With Rosenborg missing out at the death in Athens, the win was enough for Juve to sneak through into next Wednesday's last eight draw.
"Juve, the Cup Wants You." proclaimed Turin-based sports newspaper Tuttosport, striving to find an explanation for the extraordinary turn of events in the dying minutes of Wednesday night's matches. Inzaghi, who just two weeks ago was dropped by his coach, Marcello Lippi, after a poor run of form, was ecstatic.
The thought that the two clubs are destined to meet once more, next May, only grew in the aftermath, with the Juve manager, Marcello Lippi, suggesting he thinks the two clubs will contest the final. If that happens, United's failure to push on and eliminate La Vecchia Signora may come back to haunt them, although Ferguson's reaction hinted he believed his full-strength team had the measure of Lippi's side, even when Alessandro Del Piero and Didier Deschamps return.
"I don't know if this will be a turning point for Juventus, I've no idea," he said. "But I'm just not interested in that. It's better for them than not being in. They're a good and strong club, and the quarter-finals will hold no fears for them. They've got the experience to handle it.
United at least know they will not meet Juventus again in the quarter- finals in March, although they could do in the semi-finals. Juventus lessened the chances of United meeting one of the lucky runners-up in the last eight, as United can now only be drawn against Bayer Leverkusen. The likelihood, then, is that they will come up against one of the other group winners, including the defending champions, Borussia Dortmund, Spain's Real Madrid, or Dynamo Kiev.
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