Ferguson hails Owen after famous treble for United

Victory over Wolfsburg takes Red Devils through to last 16 of Champions League as group winners; CSKA Moscow's participation in knockout stages in doubt after two players fail doping tests
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The Independent Football

After a first hat-trick for Manchester United overturned every pre-match prediction to ensure the club topped their Champions League group, Sir Alex Ferguson said Michael Owen's future at Old Trafford was guaranteed.

The striker who has been frozen out by England, has now scored seven times for United and his hat-trick against Wolfsburg was, Ferguson said, a ringing endorsement of one of the summer's most controversial transfers.

"He is still one of the best strikers in the last third of the field in terms of his movement and clinical finishing," said the United manager after overseeing a 3-1 victory over the German champions. "The evidence is there on the football field and Michael has now given plenty of evidence of his ability. His training has improved steadily and I have never had any doubts about him."

When asked whether Owen's form flew in the face of the England manager Fabio Capello's continuing rejection of a man who has scored 40 times for his country, Ferguson replied that he was only interested in the striker's impact for United.

"He has not played as much as he would like because we have been using Wayne Rooney as a lone striker but he has proved his worth in his time with us," he said. "And we are delighted in how he has played."

Although United went to Wolfsburg with 13 injured players and with one fit defender in Patrice Evra, Ferguson said he expected the injury crisis to ease before Saturday's encounter with Aston Villa at Old Trafford. Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov and Rooney will all return, as will Nemanja Vidic. However, Ferguson said he expected Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick, both of whom performed minor heroics in the Volkswagen Arena, to continue in their roles of makeshift defenders.

However, whether CSKA Moscow join Manchester United in the knockout stages depends on Uefa's ruling over the news that two of their players, Sergei Ignashevich and Alexei Berezutsky, had failed a doping test and had taken banned substances before their 3-3 draw against United at Old Trafford and the 2-1 win over Wolfsburg in Moscow that proved decisive to their qualification.

Both players have admitted to taking the common cold remedy Sudafed without notifying Uefa officials. The medication is not a banned substance but Uefa must be informed if it is being used.

In a statement, CSKA Moscow said there was no suggestion of foul play. "It is shocking news for the players and the club," CSKA said. "Unfortunately, we do not fully understand the circumstances of the case but we have nothing to hide and we believe that we should make our fans aware of this."

The Wolfsburg manager, Armin Veh, sounded cautious when asked if CSKA Moscow might be expelled from the Champions League in favour of the German champions. "This mess will take weeks to sort out," he said. "It is not a matter for me to comment on but for Uefa and we can only hope they will take the right decision."

In 2003, another Russian player, Yegor Titov, tested positive for a banned substance after the first leg of the national side's European Championship play-off against Wales in Moscow. Titov played in the second leg in Cardiff, which Russia won 1-0, and was then banned for 12 months. Uefa ruled that as only one player had failed a test just the individual should be punished. More than one player would have meant that sanctions would also have been imposed on the team. CSKA will hope that does not apply.