Football: Juventus the ideal draw for Ferguson

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The Independent Online
MANCHESTER UNITED were yesterday handed another Italian test when they were drawn to meet Juventus in the semi-finals of the European Cup.

Alex Ferguson, the United manager, said he was pleased with the pairing, despite the fact that the Serie A side have reached the last three finals in the competition. He desperately wanted to avoid the Ukrainian champions, Dynamo Kiev, because he feared the long trip might affect his side's challenge for the Premiership title.

"We're trying for the league and to travel to that kind of place does interrupt your plans on the league side," Ferguson said. "When you're trying to prepare for league matches it does make it a lot more difficult."

Chelsea, the other British club remaining in Europe, have been drawn against Real Mallorca in the semi-finals of the European Cup-Winners' Cup, leaving Gianluca Vialli's team on course for a final showdown with the Italian Serie A leaders, Lazio.

Chelsea, who beat the Norwegian outfit Valerenga on Thursday, will play the first leg of the tie at Stamford Bridge on 8 April and then travel two weeks later to the ground where Hearts had their controversial 1-0 second-leg defeat in October.

Hearts, 2-0 losers on aggregate, filed an official protest about the size of one of the goalposts in the Luis Sitjar Stadium but had their appeal rejected by Uefa, European football's ruling body. The Spaniards also faced complaints about the gradient in the goalmouth in the next round, but it is believed they have taken steps to improve the pitch.

Ferguson's team have again been drawn at home for the first leg. In their quarter-final victory over Internazionale they notched up a 2-0 advantage in the home leg before completing the job with a 1-1 draw in Milan's San Siro stadium on Wednesday. United will travel to Turin for the semi-final second leg on 21 April and Ferguson is confident they have the measure of the Italian giants. United have lost three and won just one of their four meetings with the Italian club in the Champions' League over the past two seasons.

Their last encounter was in December 1997 in the group stages when Juventus won 1-0, although United had already qualified and played accordingly, and Ferguson feels his side have got better since then. "We have the experience of playing against them four times in the last two or three years," he said. "The important thing is that the players know all about them and to be honest we've improved. It will be a hard game for us and hopefully we can make it a hard game for Juventus. At this stage the draw is what you would expect - tough."

United recorded arguably their best European result of recent years against Juventus at Old Trafford back in October 1997 when they beat the Serie A side 3-2. Ferguson claims his team must reach that standard again if they are to progress to the final in Barcelona on 26 May.

Juventus are also happy with the draw. The Italians have not been performing as well as in recent seasons, culminating in last month's departure of coach Marcello Lippi to be replaced by Carlo Ancelotti. But Romy Gai, the club's commercial director, said: "They [United] are our preferred choice, but it's impossible to be completely optimistic."

EUROPEAN SEMI-FINALS DRAW

EUROPEAN CUP

Manchester Utd v Juventus

Dynamo Kiev v Bayern Munich

First leg 7 April; second leg 21 April

CUP-WINNERS' CUP

Chelsea v Real Mallorca

Lokomotiv Moscow v Lazio

First leg 8 April; second leg 22 April

UEFA CUP

Atletico Madrid v Parma

Marseilles v Bologna

First leg 6 April; second leg 20 April

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