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Ferguson hails 'immense' Rio

Sir Alex Ferguson has hailed the "immense" form of Rio Ferdinand since his timely return from injury as the defender prepares to shackle legendary striker Raul in the Champions League on Tuesday.

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Manchester United centre-back Ferdinand had been out of action for over two months with a calf injury when he made a seamless return in the first leg of the quarter-final win over Chelsea.

Three weeks and three games later, Ferdinand looks as if he has never been away and in the semi-final first leg at Schalke on Tuesday night he will be one of the men aiming to keep the competition's all-time top scorer as queit as possible.

"Rio's ability showed itself in the first leg against Chelsea,'' he said. "He was absolutely immense. That experience and ability is vital in the situation we are in at the moment. He is fresh and ready to play and that is a big step forward for us.''

Ferdinand will partner skipper Nemanja Vidic at the heart of United's defence. Elsewhere, the make-up of Ferguson's team is rather harder to predict. Park Ji-sung, for instance, is virtually certain to start but could occupy a spot in a three-man central midfield or on either of the flanks.

Similarly Wayne Rooney might be pushed out wide, if Ferguson selects in-form Javier Hernandez up front, or Rooney could be used as a lone striker, as he was against Bayern 12 months ago, or as a deep-lying second striker, where he has been effective in the last couple of games.

It is a fair bet he will have a better time of it that he did on his last visit to Gelsenkirchen though, made infamous by the Cristiano Ronaldo wink that accompanied Rooney's red card for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho as England bowed out of the World Cup to Portugal in 2006.

"You have to put bad moments behind you. That is normal for any footballer,'' said Ferguson, who claimed not to be aware such an important moment for his club took place in the ground where he was giving his thoughts.

"But good players create their own platforms in the sense of the importance of their performance. Wayne, more than anyone, realises that performances are the thing that he will always be judged on. There is an expectation on the boy. He has stepped up to the mark for that - and proved himself entirely. No one else.''


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