United ready for final push

by Andrew Mckirdy

YOKOHAMA — Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is bracing for a bruising Club World Cup final encounter with Ecuador’s LDU Quito on Sunday, but is confident his side can bring the world title back to Old Trafford for the second time in the club’s history.

United had little trouble overcoming Gamba Osaka in Thursday’s semifinal despite the final 5-3 scoreline, but the manager is wary of the Copa Libertadores champion’s physical threat ahead of the game at International Stadium Yokohama.

“What we expect from South Americans is that they are very resilient and powerful, and I think that will be the case tomorrow,” Ferguson said on Saturday.

“I think this will be a more physical test for us. I think South American teams have always been determined at the back. The defenders always take defending very seriously.

“But at the end of the day you need quality to win matches. The other night we produced some fantastic moments, and I think we are ready for this match.”

United has no injury worries going into the game, and Dimitar Berbatov may even take his place on the bench after making an improvement from a bout of illness.

Ferguson has yet to decide on his starting lineup, but conceded the side effects of traveling to and from Japan will play a part in his thinking.

“Some are finding it difficult, some are OK,” he said. “I think the players will be better tomorrow physically. Towards the end of the game on Thursday there were signs that jet lag was taking its effect, but I don’t expect that tomorrow.

“I don’t really need to make changes, but I will make changes for freshness. I want to make sure I pick the team that wins tomorrow.”

Ferguson confirmed Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville will all play some part in the match, but would only reveal Park Ji Sung is assured of a place in the starting lineup.

“I think he is one of our favorite players and one of the players’ favorite players,” Ferguson said of the former Kyoto Sanga midfielder.

“What he provides for us is his movement, and there are very few players that can create space like he does. I wish he would score more goals because he does create fantastic opportunities for himself.”

Ferguson identified strikers Alejandro Manso and Claudio Bieler as LDU’s key men, but is confident his own attackers can eclipse the Quito side’s Argentine striking duo.

“They are not short of really good players, and I think you would expect that coming into a game of this nature,” he said.

“We have got to make sure we have got players who can paint their own picture on the field tomorrow, and I think we have those players.”

One who certainly falls into that category is European player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Portuguese winger scored 42 goals in all competitions last term, but Ferguson is keen to see his star player recreate that prolific form after ankle surgery delayed his start to this season.

“We always expect more from Cristiano because of the expectation his rise in the game has created,” he said. “I think he has to recapture that scoring part but I am very satisfied with him.

“Very few wingers in the game can have such an influence as Cristiano. I don’t see any deterioration at all, and it’s only the goalscoring part that he needs to pick up. I think he will do that, especially in the second half of the season.”

And if Ronaldo can continue his ascent, Ferguson believes a place in legend alongside Diego Maradona and Pele could be the reward.

“He scored 42 goals last year still being a very young man, and of course Pele scored in the semifinal of the World Cup as a 17 year old and Maradona played for his country at 17 years of age,” he said.

“I think Cristiano was 18 when he played, so all the signs are the same in the sense of when there’s a star they normally make an early impact on the game.

“In the next few years you will get your answers. He is incredible in the air, so there are a lot of things in his favor to go and improve himself as a legend.”