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English Premiership

Rome here we come

LONDON, May 6 – Sir Alex Ferguson believes Manchester United are hitting peak form at just the right time to extend their reign as champions of Europe.ALEX FERGUSONFerguson’s side swept into the Champions League final for the second successive season with a ruthless 3-1 victory over Arsenal in Tuesday’s semi-final second leg at the Emirates Stadium.

United are just 90 minutes away from becoming the first team in the Champions League era to successfully defend Europe’s top club prize.

Victory in Rome against Chelsea or Barcelona on May 27 would be the culmination of a campaign that has already included Club World Cup and League Cup triumphs and is likely to feature a third consecutive Premier League crown.

But Ferguson knows the potentially glorious finale could have been so different if United hadn’t bounced back from shock defeats to Liverpool and Fulham.

"We had a blip when we lost to Liverpool and Fulham and we got a break against Aston Villa when we won in the last minute but since then the form has been back," Ferguson said.

"At this time of year, to be in top form is good. I have a strong squad and we don’t have big injuries. I think we are at our strongest at the moment.

"You have to remember that the team has just been put toghether the last two or three years, it doesn’t happen overnight. You saw maturity in the performance against Arsenal.

"We weren’t overcome by Arsenal’s aggressive start to the game. The crowd were going but we kept playing our football.
"Good players will always be judged by the belief they have. What was good for me was that everyone played for each other – there were no indiviudal performances above the rest."

Ferguson measures the value of a season by United’s performance in Europe these days as he tries to establish them alongside the likes of Real Madrid, AC Milan and Liverpool as the continent’s most successful clubs.

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United would join Bayern Munich and Ajax on four European Cups if they win this year’s competition and Ferguson believes his players have the desire to do it.

"From the club’s point of view, we should have won this cup more times and it’s another opprtunity for us," Ferguson said.

"Hopefully we can do it again. We have the quality, energy and ambition to do it again and it’s a hungry team. When the chips are down, they don’t let me down."

Ferguson was in dreamland from the moment South Korea’s Park Ji-Sung capitalised on a slip from Kieran Gibbs to open the scoring in the eighth minute.

Ronaldo lashed a long-range free-kick past Manuel Almunia three minutes later and the Portugal winger put the result beyond doubt in the 61st minute when he finished a sublime move involving Park and Wayne Rooney.

The only sour note for Ferguson was referee Roberto Rosetti’s decision to send off Darren Fletcher for a challenge on Cesc Fabregas in the penalty area late in the second half.

Rosetti ruled that Fletcher’s tackle had taken the man before the ball but television replays suggested otherwise and Ferguson hopes the official will persuade UEFA to reverse a decision that rules the Scotland midfielder out of the final.

Ferguson said: "Darren is disappointed and he should be disappointed. He’s one of the most honest players in the game and to miss the final, it’s a tragedy. He was distraught.

"In respect to the referee in this situation he might look at it himself without anyone asking him.

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"We shouldn’t ask him. He’s competent and fair enough to look at it himself possibly. Apparently, you can’t appeal and if that’s the case it’s disappointing for the boy."

While Ferguson savoured one of his greatest European victories, he also found time to console Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger – for so long a bitter rival of the United boss but now a much closer friend.

Ferguson said: "I know exactly how he feels. When you work as hard as he does he deserves success.

"The problem for Arsene Wenger and myself is that the longer you are in the game the more labels are attached to you.

"If you are not winning you are useless, if you are winning you’re great."

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