United look to secure place in last 16

Last updated 10:35 07/11/2012

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After exiting the Champions League in the group stage last season, Manchester United can secure a berth in the knockout stages with two games to spare when they take on Braga on Wednesday (local time).

Alex Ferguson's team has three wins from three and is top of Group H. A win or even a draw in northern Portugal could be enough to put the Red Devils into the knockout stage.

"With nine points from the first three games we really should be kicking on and make sure we confirm the No. 1 spot. That's the important thing," said Ferguson, who this week marked 26 years at the team's helm. "It's always good to win your group."

He believed United's improved run in Europe this season was down to wiser selections.

"After the experience of last season, we're showing that we're paying more attention to team selection in the sense that we've used a big proportion of experienced players," he said.

Braga has only one win and three points so far but will be no pushover. The Portuguese team took a 2-0 lead at Old Trafford before losing 3-2 in the last round. Braga also has a strong home record against English clubs, having in the past five years beaten Arsenal and Liverpool.

Recent wins over close rivals Chelsea and Arsenal have sent United to the top of the English Premier League, with summer signing Robin van Persie in sharp form in a partnership with Wayne Rooney that has brought him 10 goals in 13 games.

"He's been doing well for us, he's a natural-born goal-scorer and long may it continue that he keeps scoring the goals," Rio Ferdinand said of the former Arsenal striker.

United's defence, though, is weakened by injuries to Nemanja Vidic, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, leaving Ferdinand, who turns 34 on match day, to anchor the back line.

That could be a tough task as Brazilian striker Alan, who netted both of Braga's goals at Old Trafford, is set to lead the home team's attack.

Leandro Salino, Ruben Micael, Eder and Ruben Amorim are also likely to return after being rested in Braga's 3-1 Portuguese win over Gil Vicente last weekend. Amorim is expected to be deployed on the left side of midfield to stop United right back Rafael pushing forward.

United is a three-time European champion, while Braga is appearing in the competition for only the second time.

Cluj, which lies second in the group with four points, hosts bottom club Galatasaray in the other game. The Turkish club, which has one point, hasn't won away in the competition for 10 years.

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- AP

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