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Ferguson brands the Dutch as 'arrogant'

Sir Alex Ferguson has long prepared his teams for their most inspired performances by saying the world is against them. Yesterday, he singled out a single nation, the Netherlands, for special treatment, branding the Dutch as "arrogant".

Sir Alex Ferguson has long prepared his teams for their most inspired performances by saying the world is against them. Yesterday, he singled out a single nation, the Netherlands, for special treatment, branding the Dutch as "arrogant".

The Manchester United manager had been riled by suggestions that by omitting four of his leading players - David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham - from the starting line-up in the Philips Stadion, he had shown an arrogant disregard for the Dutch champions, who won the game comfortably.

"It's strange for a country like Holland to call us arrogant. You are not short of it yourself," retorted Ferguson when a Dutch television journalist accused him of showing a cavalier attitude before United's heaviest European defeat in six years.

"I think the Dutch have an arrogance in their football, that's well documented by many people, although sometimes it has done you good."

It has been reported that Ferguson has been offered a lucrative post as a football ambassador for Nike when he retires, although international diplomacy has sometimes not been the great man's forte.

When asked by foreign journalists whether he thought Ronaldo would play in United's European Cup quarter-final with Internazionale in March last year, Ferguson, who jokingly often describes the Scots as "the master race", quipped: "If an Italian gave me a bowl of pasta, I would have look under the sauce before I was sure it was."

Significantly, that game was won with an assured performance and, when it is the world versus Manchester United, the world is usually on a hiding to nothing.

His opposite number, Erik Gerets, was rather more diplomatic: "I am not the kind of person to criticise a coach whose performances have shown him to be one of the best in the world," he said when told ofFerguson's comments.

"The criticism [of United] also came from Belgium where Anderlecht were disappointed because we had taken three points from what they saw as a weakened team."

Ferguson said those who criticised him "did not understand the mechanics of our League when you have big games Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday," adding: "PSV and Kiev had no matches before they played us and so their preparations were much better while we had to go to Arsenal on the Sunday and the winning of that game could decide the League. We had two home games left and I trust my players to win them."

The United players generally, and Beckham in particular, were angered by some of PSV's time-wasting tactics last month, and the stiff challenges that scarred the first 20 minutes, and Ferguson's repetition of the charges will not have improved relations strained by the collapse of the Ruud van Nistelrooy deal.

"We were a bit disappointed by some of the diving that was going on all over the place," said Ferguson, before adding ominously: "One thing it has done is ensure the players will be up for this match. I can sense they are ready for it."

Save for Jaap Stam, who presumably is not included in his manager's list of arrogant Dutchmen, United will be at full strength for what Ferguson said was a "massive game", if not quite on the scale of aquarter-final.

Andy Cole, whose last taste of European football at Old Trafford was to hammer a hat-trick past Anderlecht on the way to breaking Denis Law's United's goal record in these games, will partner Teddy Sheringham with Giggs and Beckham restored to the midfield. Gerets will field almost the same side that took a still-formidable United side apart in the Philips Stadion, with Adil Ramzi replacing the injured Wilfred Bouma.

Few sides who come to play for a draw at Old Trafford achieve their aim but Gerets, taking encouragement from watching a video of Chelsea's display, said: "We are up for this. If you had seen our last game [a dire goalless draw with Nijmegen], you would think I was crazy. But our players are coming here believing they can draw at least and, if United are not 100 per cent, they can win the game."

History is against them. Only once have United lost a group match at home in the Champions' League, the 1-0 defeat by Fenerbahce in 1996 that ended their proud record of never having been beaten in European football at Old Trafford. Should there be an unlikely repetition, United would need to win both their remaining games handsomely if they were to avoid an ignominious fate in the Uefa Cup.

* Sir Alex Ferguson is bringing the England Under-21 winger Luke Chadwick back from Royal Antwerp, where he has been on loan for over a year, in case David Beckham's knee problem worsens. His scouts have also been looking atNewcastle United's Peruvian winger Nolberto Solano.

Manchester United (4-4-2, probable): Barthez; Irwin, G Neville, Johnsen, Silvestre; Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Giggs; Sheringham, Cole.

PSV Eindhoven (4-1-3-2, probable): Waterreus; Heintze, Hofland, Nikiforov, Van der Weerden; Vogel; Ramzi, Van Bommel, Van der Doelen; Kezman, Bruggink.