March 10, 2010
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A performance of genuine class saw Manchester United brush aside an aging, weary Milan side at Old Trafford on Wednesday night.
Two goals from Wayne Rooney early in each half condemned the Rossoneri to defeat, with Park and Fletcher adding to their woes. Not even a David Beckham cameo could lift Milan above average, as they looked desperately short of pace and ingenuity.
Ferguson was able to pick Rooney after his injury scare, and went with a familiar looking European side, Park and Fletcher both selected. Nemanja Vidic partnered Rio Ferdinand at the back. With Obertan, Berbatov and Diouf, there was plenty of threat on the United bench.
Milan, needing at least two goals, lined up in positive fashion. Beckham, on his big return, started on the bench for AC Milan, with...preferred in midfield. Huntelaar, Ronaldinho, and Boriello posed a triple threat up front.
Both sides came within inches of taking the lead within the first seven minutes. First, Valencia robbed Jankulovski and fed Rooney, who fired narrowly wide from the edge of the area.
Then, Pirlo's free kick from deep on the left wing was only helped on by Nani, and Ronaldinho's snap header flew millimeters wide with Van der Sar a mere spectator. Moments later Tiago Silva found Huntelaar free eight yards out, but the Dutchman's touch let him down.
The frenetic pace continued with Nani going straight up the other end and testing Abbiati at his near post. It was no more than one would expect with Milan needing two goals, and United sensing just one more would end the tie.
That goal came in the 12th minute.
Gary Neville was given far too much time by Jankulovski, and his cross from deep was met 10 yards out by Rooney. His driven header beat Abbiati low. Milan needed three.
They set about their task in determined fashion and almost engineered a chance for Huntelaar, but Ferdinand was alert. Pirlo then fired an effort straight at Van der Sar, the keeper able to gather at the second attempt.
A Park slip almost gifted Jankulovski a chance.
The game then fell into a pattern.
The midfield composure of Pirlo and Ambrosini combined with the width of Abate got Milan into a number of threatening positions, but there was no delivery. United continued to threaten on the break.
The game then lulled almost completely, United content to sit on their lead. The only spark came right at the end of the half from Fletcher's 20-yard shot, which flew past the post with Abbiati scrambling.
Milan attempted to shake the game to life by replacing Bonera with Seedorf at half time, but it was Nani who had the next say, charging down the left and curling an inch-perfect ball into the path of Rooney with the outside of his right foot.
Rooney kept his composure to slide under Abbiati for 2-0.
In effect, nothing had changed. Milan needed three to stay alive before the goal, and three after it. They went after it with plenty of effort but little quality.
All they could muster before the hour was a Huntelaar header from an Abate cross, the striker continuing to be wasteful in this tie. He got underneath a very presentable cross, and did not test Van der Sar.
And just before the hour, United buried the tie with a rare goal from Park Ji-Sung. The influential Scholes threaded a ball though the Milan defence, and Park was able to take a touch before firing home across Abbiati.
Shortly thereafter, Beckham came on for his homecoming. The Old Trafford faithful's rapturous reception brought a tear to the eyes of the former England captain, but the Green and Gold showed they have not lost their sense of humour in recent weeks by booing his first touch.
With quarter of an hour to go he almost got his fairytale goal, volleying powerfully from 20 yards, but Van der Sar was able to parry it over.
The mere fact that, at the business end of this tie, the only things left to resolve were the sub-plots spoke volumes of the clinical way United had dispatched Milan. Beckham swung in dangerous crosses, but the Milan strikers never looked like getting on the end of one.
Indeed, it was the Reds who looked far more likely to add to the scoresheet, and add to it they did with three minutes left.
Another cross from deep, this time from Rafael, found Fletcher charging in at the far post. The Scotsman, so often pivotal on big European nights, headed confidently beyond Abbiati.
So Manchester United continue their bid to become only the third side ever to reach three successive Champions League finals with a comfortable win over a Milan side expected to challenge.
But what of Milan themselves?
This is surely the end of an era for the Rossoneri. Their aging lineup is in desperate need of a refresh, but there seem to be so few players waiting in the wings. It's going to be either an expensive summer or a miserable winter for Leonardo, if he is still in charge at all.
Man of the Match: Wayne Rooney
When Manchester United need a favour, Wayne Rooney almost always obliges. His pinpoint header in the first half, and cool finish early in the second killed Milan stone dead.
God forbid him getting injured, as club and country would miss him painfully.
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