Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Another win keeps United on top of Champions League

Sir Alex Ferguson's team all but secured their place in the next stage of the UEFA Champions League with a 3-0 win at home to FC Copenhagen.

Paul Scholes got Manchester United going with his 141st goal for the club on 38 minutes. It was a typically clean strike by the midfielder in stark contrast to John O'Shea's flukey second from a corner and Kieran Richardson's fortunate third from a mistake by the keeper.



The result maintained United's perfect start to the competition, with a hat-trick of victories, and they sit comfortably at the top of the group, with just three more games remaining.

Cristiano Ronaldo returned to United's starting line-up, as O'Shea kept his place at right back.

Ferguson was forced into two late changes as well though, as Darren Fletcher replaced Ryan Giggs because of illness and Wes Brown stepped in at the heart of the defence in place of Rio Ferdinand, suffering from a stiff neck.

The lateness of the changes meant United had one less substitute to choose from as Giggs took a place on the bench, but Uefa deemed Gary Neville's application to replace Ferdinand too late to approve.

Rooney took the captain's armband in search of his first goal in 12 hours of football for both club and country.

United made a lightning start to the game and were nearly ahead inside the first minute when Michael Carrick fed Rooney from the centre circle. The England striker laid the ball perfectly into Louis Saha, but the prolific Frenchman took his shot on early with his right, and saw it easily saved by Jesper Christiansen.

At the other end Nemanja Vidic was looking at his eminent best in the patched-up back four.

Ronaldo and Patrice Evra were also looking lively down the left, and the Portuguese winger had a good chance to break the deadlock when Evra was brought down on the edge of the box after nutmegging Lars Jacobsen. Ronaldo struck the free kick from near the by-line strongly, but it was well saved again by Christiansen.

There was some good build-up being played by the United attack, but the final ball was not quite there. When Ronaldo received a good ball from Saha in the box he seemed certain to play in Rooney. But frustratingly the tricky winger instead chose to shoot, seeing his effort evade both the goal, far post and his lunging team-mate.

Saha saw another of his strikes go just past the post after some good individual work, but still the goal refused to come for The Red Devils.

Copenhagen were looking more adventurous than expected and using free kicks to flood the box. Atiba Hutchinson showed great strength and determination up against the United back four, before feeding Marcus Allback on the edge of the box. The former Aston Villa man turned and hit a fine snap-shot, which forced a smart save from Edwin van der Sar low to his right.

The visitors were showing glimpses of their threat with Michael Silberbauer and Allback showing some fine touches alongside Fredrick Berglund.

With the goals still frustrating him, Rooney turned provider and played Saha through into another one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper, but Christiansen again defied the Frenchman, this time with his feet.

Ronaldo dancing in the box then laid the ball off to Carrick on the edge of the area, but the summer arrival saw his fiercely struck shot well saved by the impressive Christiansen.

Then finally the defence was broken, as Evra squared the ball to Saha, whose lay-off to Scholes was powered into Christiansen's corner with a typically clean strike to make it 1-0 to United on 38 minutes.

The Red Devils could have doubled their advantage moments later when Ronaldo cushioned Fletcher's cross towards the top corner, but Christiansen pushed the ball wide with a strong hand, as United went in 1-0 up at half time.

Immediately after the restart Rooney had a great chance to score when Carrick's fine ball put him through on goal. Rooney chipped the keeper, but Michael Gravgaard got back well to head the ball away from the expectant Rooney and out for a corner.

From Ronaldo's resulting corner United were two up, as O'Shea somehow contrived to knock the ball in with his standing leg, as everyone else missed the ball. There were just 40 seconds gone in the second period as United had now effectively killed the game off at 2-0 to the good.

The Red Devils should have had a penalty on the hour mark when Scholes was set free in the box. The midfielder touched the ball past Christiansen at his feet, only to be felled, but referee Jan Wegereef took no action.

Alan Smith came on for Saha and Carrick made way for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Ferguson looked to exercise his substitutes.

But Copenhagen were not to be steam-rollered and Hutchinson and Allback combined well to force a good save from van der Sar not long after.

Smith had a great chance to mark his return to the competition when some fantastic work from Rooney and Solskjaer on the right saw the Norwegian feed the former Leeds United man in the middle. But Smith, playing as a conventional front man failed to connect properly with the ball and saw his shot drift harmlessly wide.

Richardson, fresh on for Scholes, soon forced Christiansen's first mistake in the Copenhagen goal though and it proved a costly one. The England starlet struck a low shot from 25 yards, and the shot-stopper fluffed his save, as the ball dribbled agonisingly over the line behind him with 83 minutes on the clock.

Solskjaer had a good chance to score when played in by Rooney at the death, but saw his strong strike deflected away by the legs of Christiansen.

The 3-0 scoreline was hard on the spirited Danes, but was an accurate reflection of the home side's dominance in the end.

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