MANCHESTER (AFP) - Rio Ferdinand has admitted that Manchester United's dream of Champions League glory could be wrecked if he and his fellow defenders fail to keep Lyon star Karim Benzema under control at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.
Benzema, increasingly seen as a worthy successor to Zinedine Zidane as the outstanding talent in French football, fired Lyon ahead in the first leg of the second round tie, although Carlos Tevez's late equaliser has left United as favourites to progress to the last eight of the competition.
Ferdinand was impressed by what he saw from the 20-year-old.
"He got the ball, took a touch and, in one motion, opened up and scored," the England centreback recalled. "It was a fantastic finish."
"Hopefuly tomorrow night we won't be giving him as much space to work with.
"In the Champions League you're always going to come up against players capable of doing that. How well you do against them usually decides who goes through."
Sir Alex Ferguson's public expressions of admiration for Benzema have provoked a minor spat between the two clubs with Lyon's chairman, Jean-Michel Aulas, suggesting that the United boss was seeking to unsettle a player he would reportedly like to bring to Old Trafford.
That did not prevent the Scot from further fuelling the hype on the eve of United's biggest match of their season to date.
"Everyone has been aware of the boy -- he is in the French national team so his level of ability has been recognised," Ferguson said. "I don't think I could say I was surprised by how he played in Lyon.
"He is a very strong boy, he reminds me of Zidane physique-wise and possibly pace-wise too. He is a natural centre-forward, I think."
Ferguson is anticipating an open contest with Lyon obliged to go in search of a goal or face elimination as a result of Tevez's equaliser in France.
"I said before the first leg it will be decided at Old Trafford. I don't think there was ever going to be a situation where one team was in a comfortable position.
"We have work to do but there is a good prospect of a really exciting game. Lyon know they have to score and that gives it an interesting prospect.
"I didn't say were the better team in Lyon, as some of you reported. But in lots of parts of the game we had good control of it.
"The tactical acceptance in Europe now is 'don't lose a goal at home' and Lyon set out to do that.
"That is where we got the bonus of scoring an important away goal. I think we played better than reported and I don't think it was a bad away performance."
Ferguson's only injury concern is over the availability of Ryan Giggs, whose experience of playing in 100 Champions League matches is invaluable on nights such as these.
"The blow he took in the Lyon game is more complicated than first thought," Ferguson admitted. "He did a bit of training this morning and he is having treatment but he is a doubt."
If Giggs fails to recover sufficiently, Portuguese winger Nani is likely to step in on the left flank.