Ferguson confident young charges can shine in Eternal City

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson knows, from the defeat inflicted on a young Manchester United side which played Fenerbahce three years ago, that fielding an under-strength team after European qualification is assured can be risky. "We don't want to send teams out here to get humiliated or embarrassed, that's for sure," he said yesterday, recalling that occasion, when a Tuncay Sanli hat-trick did for United, 3-0.

But Ferguson knows that Wayne Rooney's contribution usually belies his 22 years, which is why, after much "pestering", he has been allowed to captain the side for a second time at the Stadio Olimpico tonight. Ferguson says this bunch of youngsters is his best in years and in Rooney he sees a leader in similar mould to Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Steve Bruce "one of those absolutely determined, never-give-in type [of] players." Praise indeed.

Ferguson, who left Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand back in Manchester, believes Rooney could use another game after his recent month's absence and wants him to maintain his forebears' mix of energy and wisdom. "He doesn't want to lose that spark [and] neither did Robson or Keane," Ferguson said. "They had it right to the end of their days. But they also brought qualities to the dressing room and to the field and Wayne will."

United's arrival in the Eternal City was considerably more low key than their departure from here eight months ago, after United fans were baton-charged and 18 injured during the quarter-final tie United lost 2-1. "We are concerned, you have to be," Ferguson said of 1,200 United fans' re-acquaintance with the stadium tonight.

The United manager did not much look like a man preoccupied, though. He revealed that the relapse in club captain Gary Neville's rehabilitation is not as serious as was thought and might be the result of scar tissue created by the injury changing his running style.

The only note of discord amid the harmony is between Ferguson's assistant Carlos Queiroz and Sporting Lisbon, who have told Queiroz he is "persona non grata" after he rejected their claims that he tried to poach their midfielder, Miguel Veloso. "We have never been interested in Veloso at any stage," Ferguson insisted. "We've not a bit of interest in the lad. He's not what we need. We've got six midfield players, why would we be interested?" Ferguson insisted the relationship between the clubs, which brought Nani and Ronaldo to Old Trafford, had always been transparent and demanded the allegation be retracted.

Manchester United (probable, 4-2-3-1): Kusczak; Simpson, Pique, Evans, O'Shea; Fletcher, Carrick; Eagles, Rooney, Nani; Saha.

Roma (probable, 4-2-3-1): Doni; Cicinho, Mexes, Ferrari, Antunes; De Rossi, Pizarro; Esposito, Giuly, Taddei; Totti.