MANCHESTER: FC Basel coach Christian Gross tipped Manchester United to go all the way in this season's Champions League after watching his side's own ambitions crushed at Old Trafford.
A 1-1 draw combined with Juventus' win over Deportivo La Coruna means the Swiss champions must beat the Italians by an unlikely five goals next week if they are to make their last eight.
A makeshift United side were outplayed by Basel in the first half despite Gary Neville's second half equaliser, they never really got into top gear having already assured their own position in the last eight.
“They have a hard programme coming up but Manchester United are fully focused on playing in the final at Old Trafford and they have a good chance of winning it,” Gross said.
“We played an almost perfect game in the first half but were unlucky to concede a goal and then struggled to get back to the level we had reached because there were so many tired legs.
“The result in Turin went against us but it doesn't detract from an excellent performance here.”
United boss Alex Ferguson was relieved to see Juventus winning and effectively ensuring that United's own trip to Deportivo next week was effectively a dead match.
With both Roy Keane and Juan Veron out injured until early April, Ferguson is grateful for any opportunity to rest his star players, particularly after Nicky Butt picked up a late ankle knock in a draw which denied United a club record sixth straight Champions League win.
“I'm satisfied with the result,” Ferguson said afterwards. “We improved our tempo second half so I think we deserved the result on our second half performance.
“It's always difficult when you have already qualified but it was important for us to ensure that our performance meant no one can point fingers at us.”
Having already clinched a place in the quarter-finals, United could enjoy the luxury of starting the match with a hugely expensive collection of talent sitting on the bench.
Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Paul Scholes were all given the chance to rest weary legs.
Without either the pace of Giggs or the crossing of Beckham, United's approach play had none of its customary verve, although the sweet touch of Darren Fletcher, a 19-year-old Scot making his debut in Beckham's slot on the right of midfield, offered a rare bright note for the home supporters.
Goalscorer Gary Neville singled out Fletcher's performance as the real plus point of the evening.
“I thought he was outstanding on his debut. It was the most impressive debut I've seen in years. – AFP