Football: Ferguson's Giggs and Stam fillip

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The Independent Online
JAAP STAM and Ryan Giggs have recovered from injury to enhance Manchester United's prospects in tomorrow's European Cup semi-final first- leg encounter against Juventus. The pair were declared fit by manager Alex Ferguson after training with the squad yesterday.

Both players missed Saturday's 1-1 draw at Wimbledon, with Stam troubled by an ankle injury and Giggs suffering from a hamstring complaint. Their return means Ferguson will have all his playing resources to draw from for the game at Old Trafford. "We've got a full squad to pick from," he confirmed. Jaap trained this morning as did everyone and we've got a clean bill of health."

Just like they were against Internazionale in the quarter-finals, United are in fine shape going into their biggest week of the season. Ferguson's treble-chasers remain four points clear at the head of the Premiership and on Sunday meet Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park.

Ferguson is confident his players will once again rise to the challenge. "The feeling among the players is very good and they have proved themselves this season. What helps, of course, is that we've got a good, strong squad," he said.

"We've not had a long injury list and pray and touch wood it remains that way. The spirit in the camp is great and we're all looking forward to this week."

In particular, Ferguson feels his side have taken heart from their quarter- final success over Inter. "I think this team is improving and I think beating Inter Milan helped them a lot," he said. "That brought them on a great stride and now it's just a matter of them being able to express themselves and make sure their concentration remains good."

While the spirit is upbeat in the United camp, all is not well with Juventus. The Serie A side, who have appeared in the last three European Cup finals, have stumbled through to the semi-finals, winning just two of their eight games.

They are well adrift in the race for the domestic championship and although the coach, Carlo Ancelotti, has improved the club's fortunes during his two months in charge, they lost 1-0 at bottom-placed Empoli on Saturday.

Ferguson's brother Martin watched the game and the United manager is not reading too much into that result. "It will be a different team altogether on Wednesday," he said. "They had five players out on Saturday and we are preparing for a hard game on Wednesday."

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