Ferguson: United on brink of greatness
United face Barcelona in the Champions League final on Wednesday bidding to claim their fourth trophy of the season after the FIFA Club World Championship, the English League Cup and Premier League title.
They are also looking to become the first side to retain the European Cup since the Champions League started in 1992-93 and Ferguson said they had the opportunity to be recognised as one of Europe's great teams.
He revealed he came to that conclusion after United were crowned world club champions in Tokyo in December.
"I think the team elevated themselves," he told a news conference on Tuesday.
"By accepting the challenge of going to Japan -- that was a big, big test for us.
"Going there, sleeping-wise, and then coming back and having to play on Boxing Day and winning against Stoke City told you something about the character of the side, it was fantastic.
"When you get a bunch of players who are talented and don't want to lose then you are talking about a special team."
The last side to retain the European Cup were AC Milan in 1990 and with victory on Wednesday United would also top the achievements of the 1999 team which won the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup.
"It is unusual that no team has defended it again since the Champions League started," Ferguson said.
"In the past there were cycles of great teams like Ajax, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, of course, but we have an opportunity now to retain it and hopefully we can take it.
"In terms of the pantheon of great teams you have to win the European Cup there is no question, that is a pre-requisite."
Ferguson said his players had proved themselves this season, notably when they won in Porto and then demolished Arsenal in the Champions League semi-finals.
"When the chips were down in Porto, they rose to that with a fantastic performance," he said.
"What you see over the last year is maturity. We have adapted to the challenge of Europe again, we have won our league, but tomrorrow I am expecting the team to play to their capabilities again."
A United victory would make Ferguson only the second manager after Liverpool's Bob Paisley to win the European Cup three times.
"It's a young team with the right blend of experience that could do well in the next few years and hopefully tomorrow we can endorse that," he said.