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By ESPN Staff
Nov 27, 2007

Ferguson relieved to claim top spot

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was relieved to see his Jekyll and Hyde team clinch top spot in their Champions League group with a narrow 2-1 victory over Sporting Lisbon at Old Trafford. Cristiano Ronaldo's injury-time rocket of a free-kick against his former club won the match for the Red Devils, who improved markedly after the break following a dismal opening period. The win made it nine straight home victories in the competition and continued their perfect record in Group F. It also clinched top spot and, perhaps most importantly in the context of their season, made next month's final game at Roma a dead rubber. With a visit to arch-rivals Liverpool to follow just four days later in the Barclays Premier League, it means he can send out a virtual second string against the Italians to ensure his men are ready for Anfield. 'It is important in the sense that when we go to Rome I will be able to use all my squad,' Ferguson said. 'One or two might not travel because there's an important game coming up against Liverpool. 'But we'll still play a team we hope can win the match.' Ferguson was also left to wonder at Ronaldo's winner - barely deserved given United's stuttering display. 'It was a marvellous strike,' he said. 'He's done it before, he works very hard at that but it was a truly exceptional goal. 'I think that he always wants to do well against his old club because he owes a lot to Sporting Lisbon - they found him as a boy, he respects that and has great admiration for the club.' Ferguson added: 'We just marginally won it. We were not a great deal better but increased our game in the second half, more speed and tempo, and managed to just edge it.' It had seemed an unlikely victory at half-time after a woefully out-of-sorts United lurched into the break a goal down. Tomasz Kuszczak, brought in for the rested Edwin van der Sar, did himself no favours by allowing Abel's cross-shot from only a couple of yards inside the right touchline to beat him at the near post in the 21st minute. Liedson had a second ruled out harshly for offside soon afterwards, but it was Ferguson's introduction of Carlos Tevez at the interval which swung the match back in United's favour. The Argentina striker poked home an equaliser on the hour mark as United belatedly found their feet, before Ronaldo's injury-time belter settled matters at the last. Sporting manager Paulo Bento admitted his side had struggled to deal with United's second-half onslaught - and then admitted he fully expects to sell midfield instigator Miguel Veloso to the Red Devils, or another European giant, at the end of the season. 'I'm sure we are going to lose him because, taking into account the names of teams we are hearing about, we have no worries about losing him.'