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Fergie reveals final dream
Sir Alex Ferguson has expressed his disappointment that Wednesday night's Champions League showdown between Manchester United and Real Madrid had not been reserved for the final at Wembley in May.
Instead, the European heavyweights meet at the last 16 stage, in a match described by Real boss Jose Mourinho as one "the whole world wants to see".
"Jose summed it up perfectly," said Ferguson. "It is the game everyone is waiting for. It is a fantastic match between two clubs who embrace the best part of football. They have won trophy nine times, which is beyond me. It is unfortunate that we are meeting as early as this. I wish it had been at Wembley."
With his side now 12 points clear of Manchester City in the Premier League title race, Ferguson regards his current squad as being better than the one which was dismantled by Barcelona in the 2011 final. However, he recognises Wednesday's game represents a significant challenge that has to be overcome.
"People say we are not as good as the teams of the past but sometimes people have foggy impressions, I do myself at times," he said. "This team doesn't know when it is beaten. It has good individual players. But the acid test is tomorrow."
The major difference has been the arrival of Robin van Persie, who on Sunday took his goals tally for the season to 23 against Everton. "Robin is now approaching that level," said Ferguson of comparisons with Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. "He has been a breath of fresh air."
Ronaldo's presence looms heavy over the tie, with the United boss admitting the player he spent six years nurturing at Old Trafford is now better than ever. "Absolutely, he is now at the very peak of his career," said Ferguson.
"He was still young man when he left us and has continued to flourish, but I never thought he would get to that level."
Ferguson has other superstars at his disposal now, chief among which is Wayne Rooney, who was depicted as a "hooligan" in the Spanish press on Tuesday. Sports daily Marca also described Rooney as "a freckled demon" who is "built like a barrel packed with gunpowder" and on his way to "blow up the Bernabeu".
"He is a mature player now," said Ferguson of Rooney. "He is 27. When players mature little bits of their games change. His goalscoring has been very consistent. He used to score in snatches. Now there is a far more consistent nature to his goals."