Manchester United marched on to the Champions League quarter finals in style as they decimated a poor AC Milan side in Old Trafford tonight. Man of the moment Wayne Rooney continued his incredible run of goals with another two before being taken off as a precaution just past the hour mark. Ji Sun Park (pictured below) and Darren Fletcher completed the scoring. Elsewhere in Europe, Lyon struck late to knock out Real Madrid. The world’s most expensive team went ahead through Cristiano Ronaldo before Miralem Pjanic levelled the scoreline on the night and sealed a 2-1 victory overall thus securing the French side’s passage to the next round. For the fifth year in a row, madrid have been knocked out before the quarter final stage, meaning that the dream of lifting the European cup in their home stadium in late May has been vanquished.
David Beckham made his long-awaited return to Old Trafford tonight but was handed a stern reminder of the force the club he left all of seven years ago still possesses. As widely predicted, Beckham began the game on the bench and was only introduced past the hour mark when his side were 3-0 down. The ex-United man, famously part of the Manchester United ‘kids’ generation received a huge ovation from the home crowd and looked notably touched.
Whether or not the United fans would have been so welcoming had their side not been in such a comfortable position will never be known, but the fact is that before Beckham’s entry United had demolished their opponents and were in complete control of the game. United’s star of the past was outshone by their star of the present as Wayne Rooney brought his season’s total to 30 goals.
Ronaldinho spoke to the press before the game about the importance of stopping the bang in-form Rooney but the Brazilian must have forgotten to mention the same thing to his team mates as inside just just 13 minutes of the opening Gary Neville broke down the right and delivered a pin point cross onto the Englishman’s head which duly glanced the ball into the bottom corner of the Milan goal past a hopless Christian Abbiati. It was Rooney’s third headed goal in the two legs against Milan and his ninth from his last eleven strikes.
Milan, who now required a near miracle to progress, did manage to create a few opportunities but a mixture of good goalkeeping and poor efforts from their strikers meant that they were never really likely to overturn the deficit. Ronaldinho and Pirlo probed the United defense but soon lost their motivation and it wasn’t long before the Milan players seemed to be dreaming of the full time whistle. Instead, all they got was a half time break and another 45 minutes of suffering.
Whether or not Milan boss Leonardo tried to rally his troops in the interval, it did not take long from the restart, for United to destroy any hopes of a comeback their opposition may have gained during their few minutes in the safety of the dresssing room. Once again Rooney (pictured celebrating, right) was their tormentor as Nani raided down the left and delivered a masterful pass into his path which the United hitman neatly stroked past the onrushing Abbiati. The clock had not reached 46 minutes as the ball rolled over the line.
Milan now needed 3 goals just to tie the game on aggregate and never really tried to get back into things. Alex Ferguson’s men are nothing if not relentless and never even seemed to consider taking their foot off the pedal. Ji Sun Park added a third in the 59th minute before Darren Fletcher completed procedings with a smart header from an excellent Rafael delivery with just three minutes of normal time remaining. In the meantime Beckham made his way onto the pitch and was actually at the heart of some of the best chances Milan created in the whole game, first stinging Edwin Van Der Sar’s fingertips with a scorching volley from outside the box and later crossing to Pipo Inzaghi which the Italian pathetically shinned wide despite it perhaps being easier to score.
All in all, it was a dream display for Ferguson who lived up to his promise of ensuring his side would bot be resting on their laurels in the tie. In coming out on top of this tie his side also ended the run of four straight eliminations coming from the hands of AC Milan from when the sides have last met in European knockout situations. There is no doubting that Milan are no where near being the force they once were and it will be interesting to see where they go from this result.
For United, attention once again turns to the league and Ferguson will be delighted to have been able to rest some of his players, especially Rooney who came off with just less than a half an hour remaining, ahead of this weekend’s clash with Fulham.
It was one of those special European nights at Old Trafford, perhaps made even more so as news of Real Madrid’s elimination filtered through. It’s very rarely a good career move to leave Old Trafford….. just ask David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo tomorrow morning.
Man Utd: Van der Sar, Neville (Rafael Da Silva 66), Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Fletcher, Scholes (Gibson 73), Park, Valencia, Nani, Rooney (Berbatov 66)
Unused Subs: Kuszczak, Jonathan Evans, Obertan, Diouf.
AC Milan: Abbiati, Abate (Beckham 64), Bonera (Seedorf 46), Thiago Silva, Jankulovski, Flamini, Pirlo, Ambrosini, Huntelaar, Borriello (Inzaghi 68), Ronaldinho.
Unused Subs: Dida, Gattuso, Zambrotta, Favalli
Referee: Massimo Busacca (Switzerland)