Champions Lge KO Rnd 1, Leg 2
Manchester United 4-Milan 0
Wayne Rooney starred on the field but David Beckham stole the limelight on his return to Old Trafford. He received a standing ovation when he came off the bench but it was his final act which further enhanced his legend status. At full time he donned a green-and-gold scarf – a symbol of opposition to the Glazer family's ownership of the club
This evening needed every square inch of football heritage to conceal the drabness of the match. Manchester United overwhelmed inept and ageing visitors. David Beckham eventually took the field as a substitute against his old club and was a tactful guest. The veteran won cheers for a volley that did no harm as the attempt was tipped over the bar by Edwin van der Sar.
The drubbing administered at Old Trafford fell just short of the 5-0 margin by which Arsenal had swamped Porto the night before. Perhaps the recent Premier League ascendancy in this tournament is not destined to end shortly after all. It will be a relief to Sir Alex Ferguson and others that Real Madrid, following the 1-1 draw with Lyon, have yet again been eliminated in the last 16 of the Champions League.
United were never confronted by that sort of risk and the sheer energy in their ranks prevented Milan from disguising the elderliness of some and the mediocrity of others in their line-up. The contrast between the teams was all the more pronounced because Wayne Rooney, who began his professional life as a phenomenon, seems now to be getting better still.
There were to be two strikes from him, but he had confirmed United's passage to the Champions League quarter-finals as soon as he notched the opener. The entertainment continued to the 88th minute when Darren Fletcher headed in a cross from the substitute Rafael da Silva. This emphatic beating will not have taken Milan wholly by surprise.
The fuss over Beckham's return to Old Trafford overlooked the fact that the coach, Leonardo, would have been a sentimental fool to include him in the starting line-up. His mediocre outing in the first leg indicated that the inevitable decline of a veteran is getting steeper. At least Beckham showed nice touches and a fellow substitute Filippo Inzaghi might have forced home one of the deliveries in stoppage time.
The 34-year-old Beckham was introduced with the score was 3-0 and there had been nothing to distract the crowd from lauding him. "Fergie, Fergie sign him up," chanted the fans. The intention was kind, but it must have hurt a veteran who knew he was being patronised. At least he was not alone. This had been a chastening night for Milan.
Nothing could have stopped them from being outclassed but the aggregate score might not have reached 7-2 if Alexandre Pato and, more relevantly, the centre-half Alessandro Nesta had been fit to play. Any suggestion that the tie was in balance at kick-off was pure fiction, even if Ferguson had been in charge of the story-telling.
On the eve of the game he had regretted the late goal by Clarence Seedorf at San Siro. That had done no more that trim the margin of United's win to 3-2. At the very least, Milan would have had to score twice at Old Trafford and the task of keeping a clean sheet had always looked an impossibility.
There could have been some tension when a free-kick from the right glanced off Nani and went straight to Ronaldinho after eight minutes but the Brazilian's header ran wide with the goalkeeper Van der Sar almost motionless. Rooney is more practised at that art and his opener was the seventh consecutive goal he had nodded home.
The attacker got in front of the centre-half Daniele Bonera to glance the ball past a helpless Christian Abbiati. The visitors had come with attacking intent, but they also brought to Manchester the same basic vulnerability that had afflicted them in Milan.
Even if they had been rigorous, Rooney might still have been their undoing. The string of goals highlights the movement essential to a striker who is not all that tall. Often there is no marker to outjump him because Rooney has left him trailing. The opener dismayed Milan, but there was also collateral damage to the fixture itself.No one could pretend that a grand drama was unfolding.
Leonardo's side did not get much encouragement although they had bouts of possession. Before half-time excitement was restricted in their efforts to counter Rooney's goal. Milan had to seek a lot more than that. They sent on Seedorf for the second half, but the removal of Bonera proved more relevant because the middle of their defence was disturbed.
Massimo Ambrosini, a midfielder, had been reassigned to that post, but the back four were left helpless when possession was surrendered cheaply. Nani, from the left, crossed precisely with his right foot in the 46th minute and Rooney shot past Abbiati. A finish with boot rather than brow was the sole element of surprise. Uncertainty involved nothing more than the ultimate margin of victory in the tie.
United, with the match won, were too composed to be lenient. After 59 minutes, Paul Scholes slid through a pass that Park Ji-sung converted for the third goal. A crowd that relished the display and remembered to protest lustily against the ownership of the Glazers had an ideal evening.
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