Manchester United (4) 7 AS Roma (0) 1
Manchester United (4) 7 AS Roma (0) 1
This was one of those enchanted evenings that Manchester United supporters fantasise about, when the self-styled Theatre of Dreams lived up to its name, and when one of Europe's most vaunted opponents were brutally put to the sword. Not only did Sir Alex Ferguson's pacey passion-players race to their biggest European win in 39 years, but they conjured up a sublime performance that will live even longer in the memory.
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This was one of those magical nights when it seemed every United touch turned to gold, when every move brought a goal, a remarkable hour and a half of relentless attacking when the outstanding Michael Carrick and Cristiano Ronaldo both bagged braces, and when Wayne Rooney, Alan Smith and even little Patrice Evra scored. Rome wasn't built in a day, but it took only 90 minutes to destroy Roma's defence.
This was one of those games when fans ran through the record books, let alone the songbooks, when they took photographs of the scoreboard as a reminder that seven goals were indeed put past a side who had entered the quarter-finals with the best defensive record around.
This was one of those routs when United were in such command that Ferguson was signing autographs even before the final whistle confirmed passage to a semi-final against either AC Milan or Owen Hargreaves' Bayern Munich, at Old Trafford on April 24 and in the shadow of the Alps on May 2.
Victory was made all the sweeter following last week's troubled trip to the Olympic Stadium where United fans were baton-charged by police, but at least they came away with Rooney's away goal. For a lover of Westerns like Ferguson, last night was a case of The Magnificent Seven following The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.
So Ferguson's pursuit of a craved second European Cup continues apace, this astonishing triumph moving him to within 270 minutes of true greatness. His players filled the headlines, and their boots, but this was a script with one author: Ferguson set United up so well temperamentally and tactically that Roma were swept away.
Ferguson had called for "a cauldron of noise'', and the fans certainly did not disappoint, screaming exhortations from the first whistle. A wave of emotion washed down from the terraces, crashing all over the stunned Italians, goal after goal flying past Doni, their Brazilian keeper.
How the majority of the 74,476 revelled in this remarkable performance, glorying in the sight of their team looking world-beaters. Missing regulars like Gary Neville, Nemanja Vidic and Paul Scholes, United were certainly not lacking in passion and understudies like Darren Fletcher excelled, constantly biting into tackles on the brittle visitors. Avi Glazer picked the right time to leave the family bunker in Florida and visit his family's famous overseas investment.
United's nervy weekend display at Fratton Park seemed a world away, a distant planet, from the devastating attacking that accounted for Roma here. The Italians drowned in a cauldron of English adrenalin. First came Carrick after 11 minutes, setting the scene for an extraordinary evening with a majestic strike. The creative catalyst was Ronaldo, who cut in from the right, eluding Alessandro Mancini, but rather than continue on a mazy run, the Portuguese cleverly slipped the ball inside to Carrick, who brilliantly chipped Doni: 1-0.
The poacher turned goal-maker moments later. Carrick rolled the ball wide to Gabriel Heinze and suddenly red shirts were flooding forward from every angle, teeming with menacing intent. Heinze found Ryan Giggs, who elegantly transferred the ball towards Smith, a blur of movement down the centre. Cristian Chivu, belying his experience, failed to cut the ball out, and Smith was through. Doni advanced but Smith was too focused, too determined.
He had waited 15 months for his first European start, and such a committed footballer who lives for football, whose idol was Francesco Totti, was driven by a huge desire to make life uncomfortable for Totti's team. Smith's finish was emphatic, superbly placed past Doni: 2-0. And to think that Smith almost joined Cardiff City on loan after Christmas.
There was more, thrillingly so. Ronaldo and Smith combined, Giggs crossed and there was Rooney, angling a shot across Doni: 3-0. The party really got started. With goals from three Englishmen, no wonder the watching Steve McClaren wore a huge grin. Romans were being devoured by lions. Then England's World Cup nemesis took centre stage. Ronaldo collected the ball from the lively Giggs, and caught Doni cold at his near-post: 4-0. United's glee club chanted "attack, attack, attack'', their words brimming with irony.