Monday, 9 March 2009

Ferguson predicts battle of minds

Sir Alex Ferguson has warned his Manchester United players they may have to go the distance against Internazionale when the two sides meet again in the Champions League at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

The great rivals square off in what promises to be an epic and Ferguson has thrown a spanner in the works by predicting that old adversary Jose Mourinho will instruct his Serie A powerhouses to try and take the game to penalties.

The Portuguese coach tried to second guess Ferguson before the first leg at the San Siro by suggesting United would not be willing to meet Inter "eye to eye". His forecast could not have been any more removed from the truth as Mourinho's men spent the first half chasing shadows.

Now, Ferguson has attempted to draw first blood by implying that the Italians will look to stifle the contest.

"Could he really have believed that we wouldn't attack at the San Siro?" Ferguson said in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport. "Well, I'll tell you that at Old Trafford Inter will play for penalties. There is always that Italian mentality. Even with Argentinians and other foreigners, that remains the idea."

"They will look to suffocate the game and aim for 120 minutes of goalless football. But I'm not worried about anything. My players have shown they have what it takes when it comes to penalties. I hope it continues like that."

Inter warmed up for the second leg by beating Genoa 2-0 on Saturday to maintain their seven-point lead at the top of Serie A, while United breezed past Fulham 4-0 at Craven Cottage to set up an FA Cup semi-final clash against Everton.

Only a cigarette paper separates these two sides and it is true that football at this level is often decided by fractions.

Fergsuon, however, has fanned the flames by revealing it could come down to which team copes best with the intensity of the occasion.

He said: "We controlled them well in Milan – Inter only had a couple of half-chances in the second half. My players played with an incredible level of concentration. They have to do the same in the return leg."

Inter will be without injured defenders Marco Materazzi and Nicolas Burdisso when hostilities resume.

Rio Ferdinand left west London on Saturday wearing a protective boot on his right foot and is United's only injury concern.

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