Fergie puts final thoughts aside

Given their overall status within the game, either Barcelona or

Real Madrid would be a fitting opponent for the Red Devils in the

final at Wembley if they can get past Schalke. However, having

suffered shock defeats to German sides at exactly the same stage of

the competition twice before, Ferguson has no wish to complete a

hat-trick. So, whilst interested observers can allow their minds to

wander forward towards a dream final, United’s focus will remain

short-term. “I don’t like jumping ahead,” said Ferguson. “We have

to deal with Schalke first. If we can manage that, I don’t care who

we play in the final.” Ferguson has good reason to adopt such a

stance. Those two semi-final defeats, to Borussia Dortmund in 1997

and Bayer Leverkusen five years later, are part of an unhappy list

of seven losses at the last-four stage. Only four times have United

gone on to make the final and though they emerged victorious on

three of those showpiece occasions, Ferguson does not think it is

enough. “This is where we should be,” he said. “The expectation has

always been high with regard to the European scene and you do get

envious of other clubs’ great record in Europe. “We are trying to

gain parity with that. You look at Real Madrid (nine wins, three

times runners-up), AC Milan (7-4), Bayern Munich (4-4), Ajax (4-2)

and Liverpool (5-2). “We really need to progress quickly to get to

that level and the present group have enough experience in Europe

now.” It leaves Ferguson with an unusual nervousness, which in

itself emphasises how important this competition is to him. “You

always get apprehensive at this stage of the competition,” he said.

“Semi-finals are never easy. “We had the same situation in 1999

when we played our semi-final against Juventus. “There was an

apprehension in our first game at home that we released in the

second leg. “When we played Barcelona in the first leg (three years

ago) we got the result we wanted. But the last 20 minutes of the

second leg were absolute agony.”