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Fergie has history in his sights

Ahead of a semi-final meeting with Schalke on Tuesday, Sir Alex Ferguson says he is motivated by the desire to establish Manchester United in the top echelon of clubs in the history of the European Cup.

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Though United have triumphed three times - with their storied history including the success over Benfica in 1968 that came ten years after the Munich air disaster, the incredible injury-time comeback against Bayern Munich in 1999 and a dramatic penalty shootout win against Chelsea in 2008 - they are not historically in the top rank of clubs in the competition.

Real Madrid lead the way with nine victories, Milan boast seven, Liverpool have secured five and Ajax and Bayern Munich have both lifted the cup on four occasions.

With United closing in on a record 19th league title, and also possessing a record 11 FA Cups thanks to their manager, Ferguson is determined to ensure further success in Europe this season.

"The present group has enough experience in Europe now. I think it's where we should be," Ferguson said.

"My expectation has always been high in regard to the European scene. You do get envious of other clubs' records in Europe and we're trying to get to parity with those clubs: Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Liverpool. We need to progress quickly to get to that level again."

In Schalke, United face a side that unexpectedly disposed of reigning champions Inter in the previous round. They have never reached this stage of the competition, while United have played in 12 semi-finals and are bidding to reach a third final in four seasons.

However, German clubs Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund have all beaten United at this stage during Ferguson's reign and the Scot is not anticipating an easy evening at Veltins Arena.

"You always get apprehensive at this stage of the competition," he said. "We've had the same situation over the years, when we played Juventus (in the 1998-99 campaign). There was apprehension in the first game at home (1-1) but we released that in the second leg (3-2).

"It was the same with Barcelona (2007-08). We got the result we wanted at home (1-0) but the last few minutes were agony. You run the full gamut of emotion in Champions League semi-finals, because it's never easy.

"There is no way Manchester United will be led into believing this is going to be easy. Schalke have beaten every team at home in the Champions League this season, including Valencia and Inter Milan. If you just take that in isolation, it is good form. This is going to be a difficult game and we will treat it that way.''

United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar will equal Claude Makelele's record when making his 13th appearance at the semi-final stage.

The 40-year-old, who retires this summer, said: "It is always nice when you are involved in a winning team. We have been good recently, so hopefully we can carry that on. I have had a reasonable career so far. Let's hope I can finish it off nicely."


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