Fergie puts final thoughts aside

Sir Alex Ferguson is refusing to look beyond the Champions League semi-final, despite Manchester United being favourites to reach the final.

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."