© AP, Jan 09, 2012

Ferguson expects Barcelona to win Champions League

ZURICH(AP) Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson praised Barcelona on Monday as ''by far'' the world's best club team which should win the Champions League again this season.

''I can't see anyone taking the trophy from them,'' said Ferguson, whose United team lost 3-1 to Barcelona in a memorable final last May.

Ferguson's comments ahead of FIFA's annual awards ceremony suggest he expected the Spanish giants to triumph even if his own team had remained in the competition.

''Sometimes in football you have to hold your hand up and say, yeah, they're better than us,'' said the veteran United boss.

Ferguson's tribute to the Spanish, European and Club World Cup champion was made while sitting alongside Barca coach Pep Guardiola at a news conference.

They are competing with Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid to be named the world's best coach in 2011.

Ferguson, whose team failed to advance from the Champions League group stage last month, said Madrid is now ''probably the nearest'' to Barcelona.

Barcelona resumes its title defense away to Germany's Bayer Leverkusen in a Round-of-16, first-leg match on Feb. 14. Madrid travels to Russia one week later to face CSKA Moscow.

During Ferguson's 25-year reign at Old Trafford, he guided Man United to two Champions League titles before meeting Barcelona in two finals within three seasons.

Both times, Lionel Messi scored and inspired the Catalan side to victory - 2-0 in Rome in 2009 and 3-1 at London's Wembley Stadium last season.

''We have experienced two years of it,'' Ferguson said of Barcelona's excellence. ''It's not a crime and it's not a weakness in my belief in my own team.

''It's just plain facts that the Barcelona team just now, particularly with Lionel in their side, are just an extraordinary team.''

Ferguson smiled at the suggestion that Guardiola would be a worthy successor when he steps down as planned in three years' time.

''Why would Pep want to leave Barcelona first of all?'' he said. ''If I was in his position, I would firmly stay where I was.''

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