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FOOTBALL: TWO BAD; Manchester Utd v Lyon Fergie slams Euro Cup haul as he gears up for 1000th game.

Byline: Carl Askew

SIR ALEX FERGUSON swears Manchester United are too big to have won the European Cup only twice.

And last night he vowed to correct that statistic before he quits.

Going right back to his time at Aberdeen, the lure of Europe has given Fergie an added thrill, so it is fitting his 1000th game in charge of the Old Trafford outfit - tonight's clash with Lyon - should be in the Champions League.

Yet it remains a major source of disappointment that despite reaching the quarter-finals seven times on the trot from 1997, United have added to their 1968 triumph under Sir Matt Busby just once - against Bayern Munich in Barcelona six seasons ago.

It leaves the Red Devils two titles adrift of Bayern, Ajax and Liverpool, four behind AC Milan and a massive seven away from Real Madrid.

Fergie - who will be 63 on Hogmanay - said: 'Some of the greatest moments I have had here have been European matches, so to mark my 1000th match as manager with a Champions League tie is just perfect.

'Anyone of my age brought up in Scotland watching European football will never forget the night back in 1960 when Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 at Hampden.

'After that you have a dream of being in a European Cup and playing against the great teams.

'It's only since the advent of the Champions League that you have all these teams together in one competition but that has just made it harder to win. Even so, we should expect to have won it the same number of times as the likes of Ajax, Bayern and AC Milan.

'I divorce Real Madrid from this purely because the number of times they have won it is exceptional.

'But for the others, there is no reason why we should not be thinking of winning it the same number of times.'

When he does retire, Fergie will look back at the 2002 away goals semi-final exit to Bayer Leverkusen and shake his head.

United should have gone on to face Real Madrid at Hampden to round off what was at one stage expected to be Ferguson's final year in charge. He said: 'We have been very unlucky at times and the Leverkusen semi-final was one of those but generally I can look back and be proud of the team.'

Victory over Lyon will ensure United's customary progress into the knock-out phase. Even a draw would do providing they avoid a four-goal drubbing by Fenerbahce in their final group game on December 8.

It is a measure of Fergie's longevity that Europe was denied him during his first five years at the club as a result of the UEFA ban imposed on English sides following the Heysel disaster of 1985. The door was re-opened in 1990 and United are alone in gaining entry to Europe every season since.

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GIMME MORE: Fergie; wants to get his hands on the European Cup as he did with Steve McClaren back in 1999
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 23, 2004
Words:503
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