Man United under pressure to perform in Basel
Updated: December 06, 2011, 12:58
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BASEL, Switzerland(AP) Manchester United is under rare pressure to reach the knockout stage of the Champions League when it faces surprise club FC Basel on Wednesday.
The English champion needs at least a draw at St. Jakob Park to avoid just its second group-stage elimination in the past 16 years.
A victory for Basel would see it progress to the last 16 with Benfica. The Portuguese club has already qualified and is favored to win the group by completing its program with victory at home to last-place Romanian club Otelul Galati.
"The only advantage is (Basel) do need to win and they have to try to beat us,'' Man United manager Alex Ferguson said. "We've always kept good possession of the ball and made that a dominating factor of our game. It can take the temperature out of the game.''
Ferguson laughed off suggestions last month that his team has struggled this season in a competition which it has won and been runner-up twice since 2008.
Still, although undefeated in five group matches, United has beaten only Galati while drawing the other three against its main rivals.
The expected balance of power was upset when Basel recovered from a two-goal deficit to draw 3-3 at Old Trafford in September. Only Ashley Young's 90th-minute equalizer saved United from defeat.
"At 2-0, it seemed to me they didn't take us seriously,'' Basel captain Marco Streller said. "But after that, I know they will not underestimate us again.''
One week after that match, Basel's spirited Champions League start seemed under threat when coach Thorsten Fink left, returning to Germany to lead Hamburger SV. But interim coach Heiko Vogel, who was not born when Ferguson began his managerial career in Scotland in 1974, has outperformed expectations.
Basel now leads the Swiss League by six points, has advanced to the Swiss Cup quarterfinals and could deny Man United a place in the knockout rounds for the first time since 2005-06.
The visitors are without forward Javier Hernandez, who was injured in a Premier League win at Aston Villa on Saturday, but defender Nemanja Vidic is back after a two-game Champions League ban for his red card during a 2-0 win in Romania.
Wayne Rooney also will return to the stadium where he starred under extreme pressure last season.
Rooney shrugged off tabloid newspaper accusations about his private life to score in England's 3-1 win over Switzerland early in its successful 2012 European Championship campaign.
Rooney will stay in Switzerland on Thursday to help present his appeal at UEFA against a three-match ban which currently rules him out of the entire Euro 2012 group stage.
Benfica also advanced from Man United's group in the 2005-06 campaign.
The Lisbon club hosts Otelul Galati having surrendered its season-long unbeaten record last weekend, losing 2-1 against Maritimo in the Portuguese Cup.
The team is also unbeaten in the Champions League but hasn't won at home, with Man United and Basel both drawing 1-1 with Benfica at Estadio da Luz.
Coach Jorge Jesus is unable to select suspended right back Maxi Pereira. He has also three key players - goalkeeper Artur, playmaker Pablo Aimar and center back Ezequiel Garay - who will be banned from the first leg of the last-16 match if they are shown a yellow card Wednesday.