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For old timers’ sake

Playing the role of the underdog takes practice and reason.

sports Updated: Apr 25, 2011 23:56 IST

Playing the role of the underdog takes practice and reason.

As a midtable Bundesliga side, preparing for the first Champions League semifinal, Schalke 04 has reason to claim it is the outsider when it faces Manchester United.

The German side, with the Champions League all-time record striker Raúl Gonzáles in its attack, defeated Inter home and away, 7-3, on aggregate in the quarterfinals. It also knocked Bayern Munich out of the German Cup.

Raul is a phenomenon. He was released by Real Madrid as a spent force last summer, but at 33 he is a youngster compared with Manchester's 37-year-old Ryan Giggs. They are chosen for the big games because they are still doing it. Raul, through stealth and a predator's instinct, is way ahead of all others with his Champions League record of 71 goals in 140 appearances.

Giggs has passed every record at United, even Bobby Charlton's number of games played, and, preparing for game no. 872 since his debut in 1991, he still has appetite for more.

Raul hasn’t changed a thing since he started. Giggs has matured from a sharp winger with an Olympian turn of pace into a calculating midfield provider for others. But, true sportsmen in the sense that all the stories about them are what they represent as players, Raul and Giggs are still at the heart of things in the world's top club tournament.

So, too, is Edwin van der Sar, into his 40th year.

Experience is invaluable at this stage. The youth and physical power that Schalke certainly can compensate for it, however, and Ferguson has a long memory of competing against German teams. As a coach, Ferguson had one of his finest hours when United came from behind to beat Bayern Munich in the 1999 final.

Since then, his team has been put out by Borussia Dortmund in 1997, by Bayer Leverkusen in 2002, and by Munich in 2010.

Ferguson trusts that he has, this time, the right combination of youth and experience.