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By ESPN Staff
Aug 24, 2006

Ferguson: We won't fail again

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson tonight insisted there would be no repeat of last season's Champions League humiliation.

Ferguson suffered one of the lowest points of his near 20-year reign eight months ago when United failed to reach the knockout stages of the tournament for the first time.

The preceding seven years had seen United win the tournament in 1999, reach the quarter-finals on three occasions, the last 16 twice and the semi-finals once.

Last season salt was rubbed into Ferguson's wounds by the fact United finished bottom of what was seen as a relatively easy group, with his side beaten away by Lille and Benfica and enduring two goalless draws with Villarreal.

Following today's group-stage draw at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, United will this season face Scottish champions Celtic, a return with Benfica and tournament first-timers, Denmark champions FC Copenhagen.

Former Rangers player Ferguson, who is understood to have an uneasy relationship with Celtic boss Gordon Strachan, knows the knockout phase is a minimum requirement on this occasion.

'After last year, I have a great thirst about the Champions League,' said Ferguson.

• Gill expects electric atmosphere

'We have to repay our fans and the club for the disappointment of last season. We won't let them down again.'

United have never played Celtic in a competitive game, but beat them 1-0 in Roy Keane's testimonial in May at Old Trafford, and again 3-0 in a friendly at Parkhead last month.

As for Benfica, it was effectively they who ended United's interest last season in the competition with a 2-1 win at the Stadium of Light in December.

And while United have never met FC Copenhagen before, they did twice beat another Danish side - Brondby - on the way to their title triumph in 1999.

United chief executive David Gill confirmed the desire to 'quickly avenge' the defeat to Benfica, and then echoed Ferguson's comments regarding reaching the last 16.

'I don't think we'll be complacent,' remarked Gill, who refused to shed any light on the club's pursuit of Bayern Munich midfielder Owen Hargreaves.

'Alex, Carlos (Queiroz) and the staff will be very determined to ensure we proceed to the knockout stages.

'If you get knocked out before Christmas, it's a long winter without the knockout stage and the buzz of European football to look forward to.

'We didn't have that last year, the first time for many, many years, and that's something we have to do this year.

'We have to be motivated and determined to make sure we do proceed, and speaking to people around the club they're doubly determined to do that.'

'PSV and Bordeaux are a little bit of an unknown for us, but it's okay.'

  • Gill expects electric atmosphere

    Manchester United chief executive David Gill expects a deafening atmosphere at Old Trafford and Parkhead as the Red Devils go toe to toe with Celtic in the Champions League.

    The two clashes in Group A will be among the highlights of the competition before the knock-out stages get under way early next year.

    United get a quick chance for revenge against Benfica, who knocked them out in last season's group stage, while Danish side FC Copenhagen round off the group.

    However, it is the `Battle of Britain' clashes which will be the most eagerly awaited in Manchester and Glasgow.

    Gill told Sky Sports News: 'It's a great draw. It's great for the fans and great for the manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

    'We have not played against Celtic in a competitive fixture - the last time (the two sides met) was back in May when we played in Roy (Keane)'s testimonial.

    'The atmosphere that night was fantastic, now we've got a competitive fixture I'm sure it will go up many, many decibels.

    'We're looking forward to Benfica, they put us out of the competition last year, so it's a chance for revenge, and we've obviously got a great history and tradition with them (United beat them to win the European Cup in 1968).'

    Gill insisted relations were good between United and Celtic, adding: 'We get on very well at all levels. That relationship has stood the test of time, but this is the first competitive meeting, so we'll see.

    'Any club wants to go as far as we can. We want to be in the Champions League, we have got the squad, the stadium and the fans to be in the Champions League and we're looking forward to a great competition this year, we went out much too early last year.'

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