United's justified ancients to play in Japan

YOKOHAMA, Japan, Dec 17 - Alex Ferguson has opted for experience in Manchester United's Club World Cup semi-final against Japan's Gamba Osaka on Thursday.

The United manager told a news conference on Wednesday that Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville will all start the game in Yokohama for the red-hot tournament favourites.

"The record they have with us speaks for itself," he said of the trio. "This is a big-game situation and experience will be important.

"Ryan has done 21 years with us, Gary 19 and Paul Scholes 19 years and that is exceptional -- absolutely exceptional."

The European champions will be without striker Dimitar Berbatov, however, the Bulgarian having been confined to bed with a flu bug.

"He's been in bed since we arrived (on Monday)," said Ferguson. "He's picked up a virus, whether on the plane journey we're unsure, but he's not very well at the moment."

Berbatov's absence eases Ferguson's selection headaches, although United have a slight concern over the fitness of Wayne Rooney after the England striker picked up a knock in training.

"I think this is our best squad in my time," said Ferguson, who confirmed Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo had recovered from a hip injury and would play against Gamba.

"There's difficulties in that, because through managing there is disappointment. You can only play 11 players."

TWELVE SUBSTITUTES

Ferguson acknowledged that FIFA regulations allowing 12 substitutes on the bench at the seven-team Club World Cup helped his cause.

"The Premier League has improved this season by increasing the number to seven substitutes. You have no idea how much that helps," said the Scot.

"To put an international player in the stand (is hard) because one: it could be regarded as an insult to him. Two: it's a problem for me because you feel embarrassed to ask a really top player not to be involved in a game. They expect to play."

Midfielder Michael Carrick said United's players had no intention of leaving Japan empty-handed after a 12-hour flight to the Far East.

"We are out of our comfort zone but it's still a great opportunity to become the first Premier League team to win it and etch a bit of history," he said. "It's a challenge."

If United beat Gamba they will face Libertadores Cup winners LDU of Ecuador or Mexico's Pachuca in Sunday's Yokohama final.