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Feb 13, 2013

Fergie: Quarter-final is 'in our grasp'

Sir Alex Ferguson believes Manchester United are in a strong position to qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals after his side's 1-1 draw with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, admitting former player Cristiano Ronaldo still looms as the biggest threat to their progression.

• Payne: On a knife edge
• Hunter: De Gea master class
• Train: Fingertips in Bernabeu

United took an early lead through Danny Welbeck when he headed Wayne Rooney's corner past Diego Lopez but Cristiano Ronaldo replied against his former club, nodding home an equaliser.

Robin van Persie hit the bar for United in the second half and had a miscued shot cleared off the line by Xabi Alonso, while David de Gea saved well from Fabio Coentrao and Angel Di Maria.

Ferguson was pleased with the result but said his former charge found it tricky coming up against his old club.

He told Sky Sports: "I think it was difficult for (Ronaldo) playing against us. What a header, unbelievable. You can't stop that, he springs and holds himself in the air.

"I said to Patrice Evra at half-time, 'you didn't challenge for that'. And when I saw the video I thought, 'what was I talking about?'.

"I think it's difficult for Cristiano playing against us, his old team. There's a little bit of emotion attached to it for him because he had so many great years for us.

"He was still a big threat for them. When he gets the ball you're praying more than anything."

Ronaldo refused to celebrate his goal "out of respect" for United, but is hopeful of bundling his former side out of the Champions League at Old Trafford on March 5.

"At Old Trafford we can win, we always have the initiative to try to win," he said. "It was a well-played match. Manchester United are very strong defensively, but we created problems for them.

"Tonight we missed a few goals, but we do not worry. [The tie] is all open. I did not want to celebrate the goal out of respect, as I played there for six years. I grew up there, and I have a special affection [for Manchester United]."

Ferguson said the game had panned out as he had expected.

"There were a lot of incidents, chances at both ends," he added. "De Gea made three or four good saves. We've missed some great chances ourselves, their keeper has made two great saves.

"The disappointing part was in the first half we sat off them too much, they got some play on the edge of our box and that's not healthy. We changed it round at half-time and that made a difference in terms of the ebb of the game.

"All in all we created a lot of chances in the match and played some good attacking football at times. I've got to be pleased, they've dug in to take us back to Old Trafford with a chance. We've got a big task but its within our grasp."

Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho is confident his side can score more than one goal at Old Trafford after the Bernabeu stalemate.

"I think the players gave everything," he told Sky Sports. "Of course it was a difficult game. To be losing 1-0 is not easy sitatuion. Now is our time to go to Old Trafford and I think 1-1 is not a bad result and we can score more than one goal there.

"There was nothing new, it was not a surprise. Not a surpise the match or the result. Basically it was what I was waiting for which was everything open for the second leg and I was thinking this could go to the last minute.

"They changed their way of playing, with the block very low. Rio and Evans didn't put one foot in our half to protect the space.

"They were wating for a set piece or counter attack. We were the team who had to chase the game. They defend well. The result is open. If you ask for a percentage I don't change one thing, it is 50/50.

"We can score more goals. They had two big chances in second half but chances out of the context because we were chasing the game. This is the Champions League; it is two matches, home and away and I think they did their match well."

Van Persie had a quiet evening but still had three clear-cut chances, the biggest of which came when a Michael Carrick header found him completely unmarked and onside 12 yards out, but he scuffed his volley and watched as Alonso raced back to clear.

He said: "It could have gone either way. We had a couple of good chances but if you said 1-1 before the game most of us would take it. It is a good result. A great game to watch.

"I had three chances in the second half, especially one just after I hit the bar - I should put that in. I didn't hit it properly, with a bit of luck it could have gone in.

"We have a slight advantage. At this level I dont think these kind of teams care if they play home or away. It is half-time now and we will be ready for the second leg."

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