Football: United rise to challenge: Glenn Moore on a promising start to a European campaign

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The Independent Online
WITH half an hour gone on Wednesday night, both Manchester United and Barcelona were losing at home in the Champions' League Group A. Up in the executive boxes, Uefa's marketing men, who created the League to maximise revenue from wealthy western Europe, must have wondered just what they had to do to rid themselves of the likes of Gothenburg and Galatasaray.

So too did Alex Ferguson, United's manager, who feared IFK Gothenburg would join the Turks in that darkest recess of his memory. 'After the first goal I thought it was going to be one of those suicide nights,' Ferguson said. 'Then after their second I thought it was going to be an unlucky one.'

United's superior strength and flair told in the end, as it did for Barcelona, but their refusal to be bowed or flustered was the key and that delighted Ferguson most. 'They were asked questions of their character and they proved themselves,' he said.

'Before the match I asked them if they wanted to 'light up the stage'. The challenge that the best players strive for was there for them and they took it, especially Paul Ince. He was magnificent. He gave us good discipline in midfield and distinguished himself.'

More, much more, of the same will be required in 12 days' time when United travel to Turkey for their second match. Last year's European campaign ended in turbulent scenes there as they were beaten on away goals by Galatasaray on an occasion noted for the dismissal of Eric Cantona and the ferocity of the Turkish crowd and police.

Although Cantona is suspended for three more matchesUnited may have both Paul Parker and Roy Keane available, if not fully fit. Parker's return would enable Ferguson to leave out Denis Irwin and play Keane (if fit) in midfield. At present Ferguson cannot afford to omit Irwin as, apart from Lee Sharpe, he has no experienced defensive cover.

However there is another option, 19-year-old Nicky Butt having forced himself into contention by the maturity of his debut on Wednesday. Butt is one of an impressive crop of young players emerging at Old Trafford. He, and several others, can be expected to feature in the Coca- Cola Cup against Port Vale next week.

Ferguson believes winning all four competitions is 'impossible' and fully intends, as last year, to utilise the club's strength in depth. Most likely candidates to rest are Ince and Mark Hughes, both carrying what appear to be long-term injuries. Their performances on Wednesday will have been viewed with mixed feelings by their national managers, Terry Venables and Mike Smith. Such is the importance of both players to United's European challenge they will be rested at every opportunity. England and Wales may see them only rarely.

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