Manchester United midfielder Nani optimistic of Champions League progression

 

Manchester United winger Nani insists his club's belief they will go all the way in this season's Champions League remains unshaken, despite knowing they are unlikely to advance as group winners.

Last night's 2-2 draw with Benfica means the Portuguese giants will top Group C on their head-to-head record against United if both sides win their final matches and finish level on 12 points.

As Benfica face Romanian makeweights Otelul Galati, who have still to collect their first point, even manager Sir Alex Ferguson concedes second spot is the best United can hope for if they avoid defeat to Basle in Switzerland on December 7.

That means facing a group winner in the knockout stages, with Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Real Madrid already certain to lie in wait.

Holders Barcelona also seem likely to win their group and if Arsenal and Chelsea maintain their present status as group leaders, the only alternative would be either Apoel Nicosia or Zenit St Petersburg, who meet in Russia this evening.

But despite drawing three times in their five European games so far, and not beating anyone other than Otelul, Portugal winger Nani insists United can make their presence felt.

"If we do finish second and get a big team that is no problem for us," he said. "If you have ambitions to get to the Champions League final you are always going to get a top side. We are still confident."

Nani agreed with Ferguson's assessment that, after falling behind to an early Phil Jones own goal, United had done well to get their noses in front and, if they had held on for more than a few seconds until Pablo Aimar struck, they would have gone on to win.

"We deserved more from the game," he said. "We played some fantastic football and created a lot of chances. We should have held the lead for longer though. We are a bit down at that."

Ferguson has certainly not forgotten it was a two-goal lead thrown away against Basle on matchday two that has left his side in a more uncomfortable position than they would have wished.

Few expect United to suffer a defeat against the same side that would tip them out of the competition at the same stage as six years ago, but Ferguson is wary.

"The reminder to us when we go to Basle is that we threw that game away," he said. "There is no question about that.

"We have an opportunity to correct that freak result on their own ground.

"It is not going to be easy but maybe I will have a few more players back and my selections will be wider and more varied."

As Wayne Rooney has his UEFA disciplinary hearing in Nyon the day afterwards, it is to be hoped United's star striker makes the journey.

After sustaining a hip injury at Swansea on Saturday, Rooney did not even make the bench last night despite Ferguson's previous claim that the 26-year-old would be fit.

In fact, Rooney was not even 70%, which raises doubts over his ability to recover ahead of Saturday's Premier League encounter with Newcastle at Old Trafford.

"Wayne wasn't ready," Ferguson added. "If he had been 70% I might have put him on the bench.

"We will have a look at him over the next couple of days and hopefully he will be available for Saturday because that is a big game.

"Danny Welbeck is on the way back and Chris Smalling came on for a bit, so maybe there is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel."

PA

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