Rooney's perfect storm scuttles Rossoneri
Manchester utd 4 AC Milan 0 (Manchester United win 7-2 on aggregate)
THEY came to praise David Beckham and bury AC Milan. They came to praise Wayne Rooney and bury the Glazers.
On a surreal evening at Old Trafford, the mood switching from testimonial to revolution and celebration, Manchester United cruised into the quarter-finals of the European Cup.
Good performances were seen throughout United's team. Rooney was himself, wonderfully accomplished, a constant menace, scoring two more goals.
Ji-sung Park kept Andrea Pirlo quiet and even popped up to score. Darren Fletcher was industry personified, moving around the pitch with all the energy that Milan so patently lack, and capping his fine display with a late, headed goal.
The Rossoneri ran into the perfect storm, a tempest blowing through them like the statues they risk becoming. Beckham was emotionally received, the former United player wiping a tear away by the generosity of the welcome, but he was always going to be a sideshow.
Of more interest was the stunning anti-Glazer campaign full of banners, scarves and chants.
Ferguson had deployed similar tactics to the San Siro, deputing Park to follow Milan's deep-lying playmaker Pirlo and using Rooney as the lone striker, again to spectacular effect.
Within 12 minutes, Rooney had scored, taking his remarkable tally of headed goals to seven in succession, all but killing the tie as a contest. Moments into the second half, Rooney poached another, this time with his foot, and it was all over bar the shouting about the Glazers.
In scoring his first, Rooney was helped both by the exceptional quality of the delivery from Gary Neville and by the abject nature of Milan's reaction to unfolding danger. Whatever they get up to in the famous Milan Lab, some extra work on concentration is required.
When Ronaldinho failed to track back with Neville, a yard of space opened up and the United captain exploited it to the full, setting the stage for Rooney's goal.
Preferred to Rafael following the youngster's chastening experience against Ronaldinho in Lombardy, Neville lifted over a magnificent cross, the ball dropping perfectly towards the penalty spot, where Rooney was lurking with intent.
Daniele Bonera had dozed off, gifting Rooney the freedom to make a twisting leap, powering an unstoppable header past Christian Abbiati.
Once again, Rooney's prolific success up top for United provided further food for thought for Fabio Capello, although the England manager is adamant that Rooney will play in the hole at the World Cup. Rooney is a threat wherever he is fielded but Alex Ferguson clearly believes he is most effective as the front man.
Rooney's goal made it 4-2 on aggregate, meaning Milan required three. The Italians might have scored before Rooney struck, Ronaldinho heading wide and then Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's touch letting him down badly. United withstood these early scares, plumped up their cushion through Rooney and looked utterly in control.
No Milan player was allowed to settle in possession, flashes of red dancing like fireflies around them. When Mathieu Flamini lingered on the ball, Paul Scholes came flying in with the type of lengthy run-up usually seen at the other Old Trafford. Perhaps remembering past encounters against United with Arsenal, Flamini wisely jumped out of the way.
Ferguson's system was working well, United enjoying numbers in midfield where Scholes and Fletcher worked with their customary diligence. Fletcher even tried to enhance United's lead, sending a shot just wide.
Antonio Valencia and the left-sided Nani continued to stretch Milan. Moments after the restart, Nani showed his threat on the counter, racing away from Ignazio Abate and then playing a sublime ball with the outside of his right foot behind Milan's defence. Rooney scarcely had to break stride to slide the ball past Abbiati.
Ferguson's half-time instruction to "keep the tempo up'' had certainly been heeded by the United players. The game won, the home supporters voiced their anger at the way the American owners -- the Glazer family, who were present -- were running their club. Twirling their green-and-gold scarves above their heads, they chanted "Love United, Hate Glazer'' incessantly.
The atmosphere was good all evening, despite the lack of a competitive edge on the pitch. Milan could have pulled one back when Abate crossed from the right but Huntelaar headed over.
United showed Milan how to finish moments later, following a Valencia dart down the right. When he laid the ball back to Scholes, Milan's defence was even more of a mess, ripe for the taking. Scholes rolled the ball through to Park, who promptly placed his shot from right to left past poor Abbiati.
The game then turned into a testimonial with a tearful Beckham arriving after 63 minutes, being afforded a hugely emotional reception from the United fans and ironic chants of "Fergie, Fergie sign him up''. Beckham, his best years long gone, looked overwhelmed by the fans' reaction.
Ferguson removed Rooney, the footballing equivalent of declaring that the game had ended as a contest.
Beckham, so used to creating chances for United in his pomp, almost fashioned another for them. Underhitting a backpass, Beckham allowed Nani a run at goal before Milan's defenders managed to reorganise and thwart the winger. Beckham then displayed his more positive side, unleashing a volley that Edwin van der Sar pushed over.
Breaking off from saluting Beckham, the Stretford End then unfurled two large 'Love United, Hate Glazer' banners. All the while, the percussive sound of their dissent towards the Americans was beat out, including an impassioned chant of "we want Glazer out''.
There was more. Milan were so poor and United so good. When Rafael hoisted over a cross from the right, Fletcher headed home the goal his work-rate deserved. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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