Football: United face anxious wait for Pallister

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Manchester United tonight extend their European odyssey into Asia as they embark upon the crucial stage of their Champions' League campaign.

They play the Turkish champions, Fenerbahce, who are based across the Bosphorus, the strait which divides European Turkey from its much larger Asian part. It is United's first visit in 40 years in Europe.

Alex Ferguson, the United manager, believes the two matches with Fenerbahce will decide who qualifies from Group C behind the favourites, Juventus. The return is in a fortnight in Manchester.

"I'll be satisfied with a point," Ferguson said yesterday, "something to take back to Old Trafford where our European record is fantastic."

The Turkish champions are aware of that. Having narrowly lost at home to Juventus, and drawn away to the group's weakest team, Rapid Vienna, they have two points less than United. Vefa Kuguk, their vice-president, admitted: "If we don't win we are finished."

Ferguson will not know his team until this morning when he discovers how a quintet of players have reacted to last night's training session. Gary Pallister, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Jordi Cruyff and David May are all doubts, with Pallister the main concern.

If he is not fit, May and Ronnie Johnsen will continue the partnership which denied Liverpool. If he is, May may be unlucky although Johnsen could play in midfield.

Though fit, Eric Cantona is another concern. The Frenchman confessed that he had "forgotten he could play as badly" as he did against Liverpool. "It has been a difficult week for him," Ferguson said. "He's been training on his own while the others [10 players] have been on international duty or injured. It cannot have been easy for him, he is a player who needs to train." Ferguson added: "It doesn't worry me."

Nevertheless, it seems every time United play in Europe one writes "Cantona is yet to prove himself in Europe". Apart from one performance for Leeds against Stuttgart it remains true.

Of his younger players Ferguson said: "They were overawed by Juventus but they started to express themselves in the second half. I expect them to do that tomorrow. It was not a crime but they won't let me down again."

Fenerbahce, coached by Sebastian Lazaroni, once manager of Brazil, have their own mercurial talents, notably Emil Kostadinov. His last-minute goal denied France, and Cantona, a place in the 1994 World Cup finals. He has been less effective since, flitting from club to club and, though he scored against Maccabi Tel Aviv in the preliminary round, he was then sent off. He returns from suspension tonight to partner the prolific Bosnian, Elvir Bolic.

In midfield is Jay-Jay Okocha, the gifted young Nigerian, while his Olympic gold-medal winning team-mate, Uche Okechukwu, partners Denmark's Jes Hogh at the back. A clutch of Turkish internationals, including the promising goalkeeper Recber Rustu, make up the side.

An angry Hogh yesterday denied comments attributed to him in an English Sunday tabloid suggesting United, especially his international team-mate Peter Schmeichel, had reason to fear Istanbul. "The reporter made it all up," Hogh said.

Indeed, contrary to reports elsewhere yesterday, United's reception in this city of minarets and mosques has been warm in the nicest sense. "There have been no problems at all," Ferguson said.

The match is a 26,000 sell-out with less than 300 of those being from Manchester. One unofficial group of 55 was expected in last night containing five known hooligans. With the help of English police "spotters" Turkish officials were hoping to deport them immediately they arrived at the airport.

The referee, Manuel Diez Vega, controlled England's opening Euro 96 game with Switzerland. He also sent off Paul Gascoigne, deservedly, in Dortmund in last year's Champions' League. Though regarded as a showman in his native Spain he is not easily intimidated in Europe.

While United have never played Fenerbahce before, their neighbours, City, have. Manchester City's only European Cup entry, 28 years ago, ended at Fenerbahce's hands. Aston Villa and Arsenal have since knocked Fenerbahce out in Europe without conceding a goal. Tonight, on the pitch where Graeme Souness, infamously and provocatively, planted a Galatasaray flag last season, United will be aiming to make their own mark.