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© 2008 gdjock@yahoo.com
Thursday, April 12, 2007
7th Heaven




Cristiano Ronaldo & Alan Smith


Manchester United FC advanced to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals in thrilling fashion as they swept AS Roma aside 7-1 at Old Trafford.

Four-goal salvo
A goal behind from the first leg, Sir Alex Ferguson's men blew their opponents away with four first-half strikes from Michael Carrick, Alan Smith, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. Further efforts after the break from Ronaldo, Carrick and Patrice Evra completed a remarkable 8-3 aggregate success for a United team who will fear neither prospective semi-final opponent, AC Milan or FC Bayern München, after this display.

United first
For United, it was the first time they had overcome a first-leg deficit in Europe since 1984 and a famous fightback against FC Barcelona. Yet this victory, achieved without a handful of regulars, carried echoes of a more recent triumph, namely their 1999 UEFA Champions League win. Captain Ryan Giggs, the only survivor of that side starting the contest, created four of the goals as United produced arguably their best European performance since that glorious campaign - when they secured their only previous Italian scalps, beating FC Internazionale Milano and Juventus.

Eyebrow-raiser
Funny to think that there were raised eyebrows before kick-off with Sir Alex's decision to begin with Alan Smith up front in a 4-2-3-1 formation. On a high-stakes occasion, Smith's selection was an undoubted gamble, the striker not having made a single start in the UEFA Champions League or Premiership since suffering a broken left leg and dislocated ankle 14 months ago.

Whirlwind start
Smith would reward his manager's bold move during a whirlwind opening by United, who, as if galvanised by the electric atmosphere inside Old Trafford, turned the tie on its head with three quick-fire goals. Carrick dented the floodgates irrevocably with a spectacularly-struck first European goal on eleven minutes. There seemed little danger to the Roma defence as Ronaldo slipped the ball inside from the right but the England midfielder left Doni for dead with a cute chip from outside the box.

Rooney strike
United's second after 17 minutes showed the Premiership leaders at their high-speed best. Breaking from their own half, Gabriel Heinze played the ball infield to Giggs who in turn slid it through to Smith, cutting out Cristian Chivu in the process. Smith, without a goal in 17 months, ended his long wait with a cool finish high to Doni's left. Old Trafford erupted. And before Roma had time to recover, they were three down. Giggs surged down the right and sent a low ball across goal which Rooney turned in off the far post.

Ronaldo finish
Daniele De Rossi headed wide from a David Pizarro free-kick as Roma sought a response but United kept coming. Ronaldo shot narrowly past the far post, then, with half-time approaching, Carrick sliced wide when it looked easier to score. It did not matter. A minute before the interval, the superb Giggs sent Ronaldo racing down the right and the Portuguese drilled a low effort between Doni and his near post.

Goal flurry
Four minutes into the second half it was five. Following a half-cleared corner, Giggs turned the ball back across goal and Ronaldo popped up at the far post to score. Pride forced Roma forward and Darren Fletcher blocked Mancini's goalbound header but things only got worse for the visitors as Carrick curled in the sixth from 20 metres on the hour. Although De Rossi then volleyed in a Francesco Totti cross, Evra compounded the Italians' misery with a low drive for United's seventh.

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