MANCHESTER, March 11 – Manchester United received a boost ahead of Wednesday's Champions League clash against Inter Milan with both Rio Ferdinand and John O'Shea being passed fit to play by Sir Alex Ferguson.
The United manager then tried to get one over rival boss Jose Mourinho by declaring Inter’s city rivals AC Milan, seven-times European champions, as the continent’s greatest club side.
Ferdinand’s fitness became an issue after he sustained an ankle injury in last weekend 4-0 FA Cup quarter-final victory against Fulham.
O’Shea’s heel problem also made him doubtful for the second leg of the holders’ last 16 encounter here at Old Trafford, goalless after a San Siro stalemate in the first leg a fortnight ago.
But Ferguson, speaking after training on Tuesday, told reporters: "They’ve both trained for the first time and we’re pleased about that.
"It was an important time after the injuries on Saturday but they’re both fit and they’ll play."
Ferdinand is now expected to slot in at centre-back alongside Nemanja Vidic with O’Shea occupying the right-back berth.
Despite last season’s penalty shoot-out Champions League final victory over Premier League rivals Chelsea, Ferguson feels United have never been more competent or confident in Europe than they are now.
United were beaten by AC Milan in the semi-finals two years ago but the Scot thinks his side have progressed considerably since that loss.
"I think that reflects the growing confidence of the maturity in the team," he said adding, "Over the last two years, you have to say that some of the performances in Europe have been very good.
"I think there’s very good evidence there and most importantly you see a massive improvement in our team from the semi-final two years ago against AC Milan to today. We have far maturity and understanding of the Champions League."
Ferguson believes United will require a repeat of their performance in the semi-finals against Barcelona last season to ensure they reach the quarter-finals and so keep alive their hopes of winning five major trophies in one season.
That tie saw United draw 0-0 in the Nou Camp and then win 1-0 at home.
"You’re never confident simply because an away goal can be a set-back to you," he said.
"That was the situation when we played Barcelona but what is required is concentration and focus and we managed to get through on those two factors," explained Ferguson.
Mourinho was in charge of Porto when they dumped United out of the tournament at Old Trafford in 2004.
Ferguson, who has won just one of his 13 matches against the former Chelsea boss, insisted: "I don’t have any nightmares. We were beaten by a poor decision and we moved on."
Ferguson said history would count for little on Wednesday, given Portuguese counterpart Mourinho’s changed tactics.
"His system at Porto was two wide and one through the middle with Benni McCarthy, who was his centre-forward, and at Chelsea it was a similar system. But the system at Inter Milan is different with two up front and a diamond in midfield."
Mourinho memorably sprinted down the touchline and slid on his knees to celebrate Porto’s goal last minute goal five years ago which secured a 3-2 aggregate victory.
But the 67-year-old Ferguson stressed he’d no plans to mark a United win in similar fashion: "I don’t think so! Look at the ages. There’s a difference."
Ferguson once said that if an Italian served him pasta, he would check under the sauce before he believed him.
But he insisted those comments did not lessen his respect for Italian football. "There was a bit of myth about what I said but when you’re playing an Italian side, you have to be at your best.
"Real Madrid won their first five (of nine) titles when European football was just beginning and they started to use Hungarians and South Americans for the first time so (AC) Milan have to be regarded as the best European team of all-time."