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Ferguson relishing United, Arsenal clash

sports Updated: Apr 16, 2009 11:31 IST

AFP
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Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson predicted a "terrific" all-English Champions League clash with Arsenal after his team disposed of Porto in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

The reigning European champions became the first English team to win in Porto and will now meet Arsene Wenger's Arsenal for a place in the Rome final after the London team swept past Villareal.

"It would be tough no matter who we played, but the fact it is another English side gives it a different type of spice," Ferguson said.

"Our game earlier in the season was fantastic. It was the way football should be played.

"We are two good footballing sides, so it should be a terrific semi-final and we are looking forward to it."

United were grateful to returning Portugal superstar Ronaldo whose stunning 35-yard strike gave United a 1-0 win on the night and 3-2 victory on aggregate.

Ferguson admitted he would settle for a low scoring victory when the Gunners visit Old Trafford in the first-leg on April 29.

"The first leg is at home, so 1-0 would be perfect for us. But it is not going to be easy," he said.

Although the Scot had generous words for his opponents, the two clubs have not always seen eye-to-eye recently with many fixtures boiling over.

The most famous incident was the so called "pizzagate" affair in 2004 when an Arsenal player splattered Ferguson with pizza after United had controversially brought the London club's 49-match unbeaten run to an end.

The return fixture saw a tunnel fracas between then captains Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira after the Arsenal man had squared up to United defender Gary Neville.

However, the two clubs have since made peace efforts and their games have become more memorable for the quality of football on show.

If they succeed in beating Arsenal in Europe and Everton in this weekend's FA Cup semi-final, United will be confident of becoming the first team to win a quintuple of trophies in the same season.

The boss of United's treble winners in 1999 remained cautious, but saw the return of his defensive partnership of Rio Ferdinand, who had been out with a groin injury, and Nemanja Vidic as key to his team's pursuit.

"We had the Bruce and Pallister partnership for six or seven years which was fantastic and with these two it's exactly the same, they balance each other very well," said Ferguson.

"Ferdinand's return made the difference and it gives us the foundation on which so much of our success in the past has been built."

After a rocky month, in which United slumped to a 4-1 defeat to Liverpool, Ferguson feels his team are now fresh enough to maintain an assault on all fronts, especially with his team back on top of the Premier League, with a one point lead and a game in hand.

"Coming to the tailend of the season, and with the quick nature of English football, you come to a point where you say 'where can I freshen the team up?'," he said.

"Today I was able to call in six players who did not play on Saturday and we looked fresh."

Although ultimately unsuccessful, the Portuguese champions emerged from the tie with an enhanced reputation, especially after their superb attacking display at Old Trafford.

Assistant coach Jose Gomes refused to be downcast and predicted the experience would send his team to future success.

"We wanted more but our opponents were Manchester United and they are the best team in the world," he said.

"We should remember it is very rare to see any team play at Old Trafford the way did last week and the second-half to today, we should all be proud."