Ferguson serious in pursuit of world crown

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The Independent Football

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will apply the same rigorous standards to the Fifa Club World Cup as he has done to rest of his career.

The Scot takes his side to Japan next weekend to play in the annual tournament for continental champions across the globe.

It is an event which carries little kudos in Britain but is highly regarded elsewhere, especially South America.

Ferguson, however, has experienced the highs and the lows of Fifa's attempts to crown the world's best club.

United won the tournament's predecessor, the Intercontinental Cup, with victory over a Luiz Felipe Scolari-led Palmeiras in 1999 when it was just a one-off match between the champions of South America and Europe.

But the following year Ferguson and his side had to ride a storm of public criticism after pulling out of the FA Cup to feature in an expanded eight-team competition in Brazil, only to fail to make the final four.

Since then the world governing body have reinvented the tournament and moved it to Japan but despite Liverpool finishing runners-up to Sao Paulo in 2005, it has failed to capture the imagination of the British public.

Despite that, Ferguson is taking it seriously, even though it interrupts United's bid to strengthen their challenge for the Barclays Premier League.

"I'll take my strongest team. I think we look at this tournament as a platform for players to excel, to express themselves," he said.

"It is a world championship and any player who goes into it will want to play the right way and make an impression.

"To play in a tournament of this stature is wonderful for them."

One of those players Ferguson is looking to impress is midfielder Paul Scholes, who last week returned to action in the Carling Cup after two months out after knee surgery.

The tournament provides the 34-year-old with a chance to gain some match-fitness and provide United's domestic title challenge with a boost on their return to England.

"It is an opportunity for Paul to make his comeback," added Ferguson.

"He may have played before that but this is an ideal opportunity for him to get games under his belt.

"He is such an important player for us that this is a bonus for us for a player making his comeback."

Ferguson said travelling to the Far East provides the perfect environment for Scholes to ease his way back into competitive action.

"Japanese football over the last decade has been improving remarkably and the facilities for the players to prepare, like the gymnasiums to warm up in before the game, are the best I've ever seen. It is really remarkable," said the United boss.

"There is a lot of enthusiasm in Japan, the crowds are very high and the stadia are fantastic."

Because of Europe's standing in the world United go straight into the semi-finals, to be held on December 18 in Yokohama.

However, they must wait until Sunday before they know the identity of their opponents as there are two preliminary matches involving Adelaide United (Australia), Waitakere United (New Zealand) and Gamba Osaka (Japan).