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Wednesday, October 27, 1999 Published at 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK

Fury over Fergie match-fixing claim

Sir Alex believes that the fate of their qualification is out of their hands

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has suggested that Champions League Group D leaders Olympique Marseilles may help Croatia Zagreb qualify for the next stage of the competition at the expense of the holders.

But Marseilles have hit back, describing the idea as an "insult" and Croatia Zagreb said it was "ridiculous".

Sir Alex's team face their penultimate Group D match in Croatia on Wednesday, and a win would guarantee them a place in the next stage of the competition but if they lose then even securing three points in their last match against Sturm Graz may not be enough.

"If we lose in Zagreb we are out of the tournament. I know that Marseille are saying that if Croatia need a result to qualify when they visit France for their last game, they will get it," said Sir Alex.

The comment follows the Old Trafford manager's belief that Marseille would rather see the Croatian side in the last 16 than the reigning champions.

Uefa investigation

"It's an important game but we have had a lot of important games in Europe over the years and the players have risen to the occasion many times, so this is another one," said Ferguson.

"If we lose then we don't know what is going to happen in Marseille next week.

"So we have got to get the result. We have got to do our own job, then there will be no questions. We don't then have to worry about what is happening in Marseille."

Uefa chiefs have been made aware of Sir Alex's comments and an investigation into the slur will not been dismissed, if the Croatian or French make an official complaint.

Manchester United are already under-fire from Sir Bobby Charlton and FA Cup sponsors AXA for remaining undecided over whether they will partake in this year's FA Cup competition.

Hernia operation

Marseille president Yves Marchand described Ferguson's comments as "an insult to our integrity".

Croatia's public relations director, Goran Bradic, said: "What Ferguson is saying is ridiculous, preposterous. He is questioning the integrity not only of our club but of Marseille and the whole competition."

"He seems to have a phobia about this and it is only to protect his back if United are beaten by us. We would never be party to fixing a result."

England midfielder Paul Scholes is likely to play in Croatia despite needing a hernia operation.

Croatian attack

Sir Alex described Scholes as a "tough little lad" and his influence in their attacking third may help the holders.

Former Aston Villa goalkeeper Mark Bosnich is expected to retain his place in goal.

Defender Henning Berg will replace the unavailable Mickael Silvestre in central defence.

Dutch international Jaap Stam believes that third-placed Zagreb will be looking to attack, therefore leaving space at the back for his team to exploit.

"The Croatians held us at Old Trafford, but they need to win this time around. That will suit us fine, because they will have to attack us.

"That will leave space at the back for us to exploit. We need to learn from our mistakes at not attacking more in Marseille last week when we ended up losing."

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