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Man U under pressure

07 December 2011, 08:33

Portugal - Manchester United are under rare pressure to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League when they face surprise club FC Basel on Wednesday.

The English champions need at least a draw at St Jakob Park to avoid just their second group-stage elimination in the past 16 years.

A victory for Basel would see them progress to the last 16 with Benfica. The Portuguese side have already qualified and are favoured to win the group by completing their program with victory at home to last-place Romanian club Otelul Galati.

"The only advantage is (Basel) do need to win and they have to try to beat us," Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson said. "We've always kept good possession of the ball and made that a dominating factor of our game. It can take the temperature out of the game."

Ferguson laughed off suggestions last month that his team have struggled this season in a competition which they have won and been runner-up twice since 2008.

Still, although undefeated in five group matches, United have beaten only Galati while drawing the other three against their main rivals.

The expected balance of power was upset when Basel recovered from a two-goal deficit to draw 3-3 at Old Trafford in September. Only Ashley Young's 90th-minute equaliser saved United from defeat.

"At 2-0, it seemed to me they didn't take us seriously," Basel captain Marco Streller said. "But after that, I know they will not underestimate us again."

One week after that match, Basel's spirited Champions League start seemed under threat when coach Thorsten Fink left, returning to Germany to lead Hamburger SV. But interim coach Heiko Vogel, who was not born when Ferguson began his managerial career in Scotland in 1974, has outperformed expectations.

Basel now lead the Swiss League by six points, have advanced to the Swiss Cup quarter-finals and could deny United a place in the knockout rounds for the first time since 2005-06.

The visitors are without forward Javier Hernandez, who was injured in a Premier League win at Aston Villa on Saturday, but defender Nemanja Vidic is back after a two-game Champions League ban for his red card during a 2-0 win in Romania.

Wayne Rooney also will return to the stadium where he starred under extreme pressure last season.

Rooney shrugged off tabloid newspaper accusations about his private life to score in England's 3-1 win over Switzerland early in their successful 2012 European Championship campaign.

Rooney will stay in Switzerland on Thursday to help present his appeal at UEFA against a three-match ban which currently rules him out of the entire Euro 2012 group stage.

Benfica also advanced from Man United's group in the 2005-06 campaign.

The Lisbon club host Otelul Galati having surrendered their season-long unbeaten record last weekend, losing 2-1 against Maritimo in the Portuguese Cup.

They are also unbeaten in the Champions League but haven't won at home, with United and Basel both drawing 1-1 with Benfica at Estadio da Luz.

Coach Jorge Jesus is unable to select suspended right back Maxi Pereira. He also has three key players - goalkeeper Artur, playmaker Pablo Aimar and center back Ezequiel Garay - who will be banned from the first leg of the last-16 match if they are shown a yellow card on Wednesday.

- Sport24


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