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Ferguson confident as Man Utd return to action against Portsmouth

10 August 2008 11:20

LONDON (AFP) - In the final moments before Sunday's Community Shield clash against Portsmouth, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will look into his players' eyes and feel reassured that the club's future is in good hands.

Just 10 weeks after the curtain finally came down on a magnificent campaign that included Premier League and Champions League glory, United return to action in the Wembley friendly that marks the start of the English season.

While United's ascent to the pinnacle of domestic and European football in May would be enough to satisfy the appetites of many, Ferguson is driven by a burning desire to establish his club alongside iconic teams like Real Madrid's 1950s vintage and the Ajax legends of the 1970s.

He has no time for players who feel they have fulfilled their destiny and will stare deep into the eyes of each of his charges on Sunday to make sure they still have the same thirst for success as him.

"Soon I will look into the eyes of my players to make sure they have retained the hunger they need to succeed," Ferguson said.

"If success has gone to anyone's head and they show signs they are ready to rest on their laurels, they will soon be on their way."

With fierce competitors like Gary Neville, set to make his first start since March 2007, and Paul Scholes, Carlos Tevez and Nemanja Vidic in his line-up, the Scot expects to finish his assessment with an overwhelmingly positive verdict.

"At this particular time, we are not in the best position fitness-wise but it doesn't concern me unduly," Ferguson said.

"There is a great quality in the squad and a great enthusiasm. A lot of them are exhilarated by winning the European Cup."

Ferguson will need every warrior he can find as he heads into the season without his two creative dynamos.

Cristiano Ronaldo's return to United's training ground on Friday signalled the end of his attempt to engineer a move to Real, but the Portugal winger will be sidelined for several weeks after ankle surgery.

Wayne Rooney contracted an illness on United's recent trip to Nigeria that will keep him out of action, while Owen Hargreaves, Louis Saha, Anderson and Nani are all ruled out.

The absence of so many stars could allow Ferguson to hand debuts to Brazilian prodigies Rafael and Fabio Da Silva and Rodrigo Possedon.

United have already beaten Portsmouth once this pre-season but John Utaka believes Sunday's encounter will be a far more high-tempo match than United's 2-1 win in Nigeria.

"It doesn't matter that Manchester United beat us in the last match, they are different games, they need different approaches," Nigerian midfielder Utaka said.

"This will be nothing like that game. Things are different now and we have the chance to win.

"We've had good preparation for the pre-season and now we really want to win this first match at Wembley.

"Of course we will approach this game very differently to Nigeria. We have to be a lot more committed, we have to play and work hard and make sure we do our best.

"They are a very good side, but I believed we would win the FA Cup. If I didn't believe I would not play football, you cannot just give up."

French midfielder Lassana Diarra is a doubt for Portmsouth and, with FA Cup final match-winner Nwankwo Kanu also set to miss out, Peter Crouch should partner fellow England international Jermain Defoe in attack.

Crouch, an 11-million-pounds (21-million-dollars) signing from Liverpool last month, is determined to mark his first significant appearance for his new club with a repeat of his 2006 Community Shield winner against Chelsea.

"I have great memories of that day, scoring the winner against Chelsea, I'm really looking forward to Sunday," Crouch said. "It's a fantastic occasion, like a cup final."

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