Rooney Delivers

Manchester United will travel to Milan next week with a goal lead for their second leg Champions League Semi Final. After last nights 3-2 victory, courtesy of a Wayne Rooney winner in the last minute, United will travel with confidence of progressing to their fist final since their famous ’99 triumph Milan will be buoyed by their two away goals, but will be disappointed at conceding a late winner, particularly having controlled the first half, and gone into the break 2-1 up. United on the other hand will always fancy their chances of scoring, and thus will not be daunted by the prospect of going to Milan and getting a result. In their ’99 run they travelled to Italy for second leg games twice, snatching a draw with Inter in the quarter finals, and beating Juventus 3-2 in the semi finals. They will also be hopeful that some of their firs choice back four will return from injury by then. Last night 3/4 of their settled back four were missing, and at times this showed clearly, particularly with Milan’s second goal. The match was tipped to be the showcase for the two best players in the world right now, Christiano Ronaldo for United, ad the Brazilian, Kaka, for Milan. It was Ronaldo who struck first, rising to head powerfully from a Giggs corner, with the ball cannoning off Dida’s chest, and then beeing pushed over the line as Dida tried in vain to redeem himself. If that was first strike to Ronaldo, the rest of the first half belonged to Kaka. His skill and acceleration on the ball where a delight to watch, as he probed at the United defence, making up for an almost anonymous Gilardinho. First he equalised, receiving a through ball from Seedorf, and then accelerated away from O’Shea and drilling a shot into the far corner, an inch perfect shot that beat the sliding in Heinze and went across van de Saar, into the bottom corner. His second was once again a clinical, clean, finish that owed a lot to the United defenders having not played a lot together. Heinze and Evra, both usually playing on the left, and so would not have played together much, went for the same ball and took each other out, with the ball bouncing kindly to a free Kaka, who had an unobstructed path to goal, and who summarily made it 2-1. Milan could have extended their lead twice early in the second period, with Kaka spurning both chances to claim his hat trick. Thereafter it was United’s game. Whether it had more to do with United settling and being more comfortable with the approach needed to overcome their classy opponents, finalists 3 times in the last 5 years, or that both Maldini and Gattuso had to leave the pitch through injury, United seemed to believe more. They curtailed the threat of Kaka, denying him time and space, spread the ball with pace, and did what they failed to do in the first half, hold on to the ball for long periods. Ronaldo did not have the expected impact on the game that had been vetted, finding himself double and sometimes tripled teamed, but was always a ready outlet on the wings for a quick counter attack. With Giggs switching between the wings and the middle, Fletcher tirelessness running through the midfield, and Rooney always a handful for the Italian defence, United gradually began imposing themselves. The equaliser came after the United midfeld exchanged passes on the edge of the box, and a sublime flick over the defence from Scholes to Rooney, who took it on his chest and finished past Dida with ease. From then on it was all United. They attacked with controlled pace, and didn’t leave themselves venerable at the back. The defence, which seemed ill at ease in the first half, were calm and secure in the second, with Brown and particularly Heinze, keeping the Italians at bay. When the winner came the match was into its last minute, with fans beginning to make their way to the exits. Giggs picked up the ball and ran at the Milan defence, before slipping a ball through to Rooney, who hit the ball firs time from just inside the box, and beat Dida at the near post. United seemed to learn how to play Milan as the game wore on, and it will be for this very reason that they will fancy themselves in the second leg in Milan. Kaka, so superb in the first half, was not able to run the game as he would have expected in the second half. More of the same will be needed in Milan, and United, who will hope to have Rio Ferdinand and Gary Nevile back for that game, will believe that the final is well within their grasp. They have Wayne Rooney to thank for that.

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