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United sweat on Rooney fitness for visit of Toon

MANCHESTER United are anxious over the fitness of Wayne Rooney ahead of their Premier League clash with Newcastle United.

Rooney sustained a hip injury in the win at Swansea last weekend, which ruled him out of last night's 2-2 Champions League draw with Benfica at Old Trafford, and it remains to be seen whether or not he will be available for the Magpies' visit to tOld Trafford on Saturday.

Asked about the England striker's condition last night, United boss Alex Ferguson said: "He wasn't fit for tonight, so we need to wait to see what he is like over the next few days.

"We will give him every chance, of course -- we did for today, but he wasn't really fit, so we'll just have to wait."

In the absence of their talisman, United fell behind in the fourth minute against Benfica through Phil Jones' own goal but equalised on the half-hour when Dimitar Berbatov -- in the team as a replacement for Rooney -- headed in Nani's centre. Darren Fletcher put the hosts in front 14 minutes after the break, only for Pablo Aimar to draw things level again seconds later.


The result means Group C leaders Benfica have qualified for the last 16 with a game to spare, while second-placed United -- level with the Portuguese outfit on points but trailing them on head-to-head record -- will get through if they avoid defeat in Switzerland next month against Basel, who are one point behind.

Manchester United now face the prospect of playing the likes of Barcelona or Real Madrid in the first knockout round of the Champions League come February and it is a mess entirely of their own making.

It was in defence last night that United were at their worst. Phil Jones' own goal within four minutes was unfortunate but it was symptomatic of a back four that were never in control of their brief.

The equaliser that brought the game back to 2-2 came just 80 seconds after United had taken the lead and featured a bad clearance from goalkeeper David de Gea and then Rio Ferdinand's failure to get the resulting cross away.

The United defender later described both Benfica's goals as "spawny" via his Twitter account and there was an element of that. United had 64 per cent of the possession and completed more than double the amount of passes than the away side managed, yet in the first half hour especially Benfica were the better team.

What went unmentioned last night was that the very worst scenario in Switzerland next month is that United lose and fail to qualify for the knockout stages altogether.

It is unlikely and last happened in 2005 when Ferguson's team were in a period of painful transition, including the abrupt departure of Roy Keane.

Given their recent record in the competition it remains a distant, albeit foreboding prospect.