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Manchester United take a step towards Wembley

match report

Schalke 04 0- 2 Manchester United

The full time score doesn’t quite reflect what happened at the Veltins-Arena on Tuesday evening; such was Man United’s dominance in Germany that Sir Alex Ferguson described it as one of the club’s best performances in Europe. Manuel Neuer, Schalke’s goalkeeper, time and again denied the red devils, but not even he could prevent Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney from finding the back of the net in the second half.

 

Manchester United’s starting XI in Gelsenkirchen was identical, at least in appearance, to the one which Sir Alex Ferguson fielded against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the previous round of the competition. Indeed, the only change from that team was Fabio da Silva deputising for his twin brother Rafael at right back.

 

The red devils produced another fantastic performance on the European scene. Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia, Ryan Giggs, Javier Hernandez and Rio Ferdinand all delivered mesmerising acts to ensure that their team travelled back to Old Trafford with the crucial away goals and the accompanying clean sheet.

 

United, playing their fourth semi final in five seasons, are now accustomed to delivering in such big games. Schalke, in contrast, seemed somewhat awestruck by the occasion and failed to so much as seriously test Man United’s defence. The red devils, on the other hand, could have been 4 goals up by half time, were it not for the heroics of Manuel Neuer who, almost single-handedly, denied his opponents.

 

To start off with, Neuer produced two excellent saves in the opening minutes to prevent Rooney and then Park from finding the back of the net. Then he saved twice from Javier Hernandez, including an acrobatic block after Chicharito had been sent clear by Rooney. After Raul had headed the ball down to Edu, whose looping shot was saved by Van der Sar,Giggs tried his luck with a header that seemed to be goal-bound, but once again the German goalkeeper was present, this time pulling a one-handed save. Minutes later, Atsuto Uchida provided Neuer with some help as they blocked Park Ji Sung’s attempt. Giggs had another opportunity just before half time, but once more Neuer stood between him and the net.

 

If Manchester United were disheartened at being unable to score despite having had so many opportunities, they did not show it and pressed forward again in the second half. Michael Carrick probably thought he was set to break the deadlock when he met Ryan Giggs’s free-kick with a powerful header, but Neuer tipped the ball over the crossbar. Minutes later, Giggs was wasting an opportunity by firing surprisingly wide off the post with his right foot. Hernandez did find the back of the net in the 51st minute, but his goal was ruled out for offside; if nothing else, the Mexican’s attempt at least proved that it was possible to put the ball past Manuel Neuer.

 

A rare sight of goal at the other end saw Jose Manuel Jurado slice a volley wide but Manchester United pursued their search of goal and it was finally fulfilled in the 67th minute. Rooney produced an excellent reverse pass on the edge of the box to set up Ryan Giggs, who slid a low shot between Neuer’s leg and into the net. The way in which all the players embraced to celebrate only highlighted the importance of the goal.

 

The lead was doubled a couple of minutes later and this time Rooney was the goal scorer. Javier Hernandez ran infield from the right wing and threaded his way past Schalke’s players before providing an accurate pass to Rooney, who beat Neuer with a first-time shot into the bottom-left corner.

 

There was still enough time to bring Anderson, Paul Scholes and Nani on in the place of Hernandez, Park and Rooney. Man United could have scored a third goal in the dying minutes as well, had Evra’s shot from the left not rolled narrowly wide off the far post.

 

The two sides will meet again in eight days time at Old Trafford for the return leg, but Manchester United have clearly taken a firm step towards Wembley, as seemed to indicate the chants in Veltins-Arena’s away end as the final whistle was blown.


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