Sir Alex Ferguson has shrugged off Manchester United's stuttering UEFA Champions League form and believes his team will raise their game against Europe's elite in the knockout phase.
For the second time this season, the Premier League giants surrendered a winning position at Old Trafford as Benfica snatched a 2-2 draw to go top of Group C and leave United's hopes in the balance. United must now avoid defeat in their final group match at FC Basel next month to be sure of qualifying for the knockout rounds.
However Tuesday's dropped points against Benfica mean United are likely to face a daunting last 16 meeting against the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Inter Milan.
Nevertheless Ferguson is relaxed about the prospect of meeting one of the tournament favourites early on in the knockout rounds. "(Finishing second) makes it a bit harder of course but if you look at it in a different way, maybe the bigger game will suit us anyway," Ferguson said.
"The opportunities are Inter, Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich. You have to judge that in this way - that if you played them in a semi-final or a final you'd be only too delighted, knowing that you have the possibility to win. And the clubs we will face know that too."
United hauled in again
Ferguson knows however that his side will have to rediscover their knack of closing out matches if they are to progress much further in the competition. After conceding an early Phil Jones own goal on four minutes, United fought back well to take a 2-1 lead after strikes from Dimitar Berbatov and Scotland captain Darren Fletcher.
But United's celebrations at taking a lead that would have seen them safely into the last 16 had only just subsided when Benfica grabbed an equaliser. Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea was the villain of the piece, stroking a poor clearance straight to the feet of Bruno Cesar just outside the area. The Benfica winger raced to the byline and hammered in a cross which cannoned off the scrambling Rio Ferdinand into the path of Argentinian playmaker Pablo Aimar who blasted home from close range.
Ferguson, whose preparations had been disrupted by an injury which sidelined Wayne Rooney, refused to blame de Gea's sloppy clearance for the result. "Obviously I think David should have played it into the terracing but you know he's confident on the ball and he expresses himself always so I'm not blaming him in any way," Ferguson said.
"I think the biggest problem was it happened so quickly after our second goal and it took the wind out of our sails. But we played some terrific football, had all the chances. David had only one save in the match. We were unlucky. Overall I think we did well. I think it's hard when you lose a goal so early in the match. It took us a bit of time to get our rhythm going again after the own goal but once we got going we played really well.
"We didn't deserve what happened tonight but football can be like that. If we'd just been able to have a few minutes after we scored our second I think we would have been okay but it was too early to lose that second goal. It's a cruel game at times and it was cruel for us tonight."
Ferguson is confident United will get the draw they require to qualify when they face Basel in Switzerland on 7 December. "It's going to be a hard game," said Ferguson. "The chips are down for us but I have every confidence in my team."