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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

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sunsnake 17022010

Rooney double rocks San Siro

Two second-half goals from in-form Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney installed last season's beaten finalists as favourites to book a place in the Champions League quarter-finals.

Not even the concession of a third-minute opener for AC Milan, created by David Beckham for Ronaldinho, could derail Sir Alex Ferguson's troops, although they were forced to endure some nervy moments at the end after Clarence Seedorf hauled Milan back into the tie five minutes from time with an audacious flicked finish.

It took a fortunate Paul Scholes effort to bring United level before the break. But after surviving another spell of Milan pressure after half-time, Rooney stamped his class on the contest, scoring his first two European goals of the season to take his overall tally to 25.

In United circles, the summer of 2003 has become famous for Beckham's exit from Old Trafford. Yet about a month after his move to Real Madrid was confirmed, there was an equally significant event involving Ronaldinho.

Ferguson was sure he had signed the Brazilian from Paris St Germain, convinced in his own mind every eventuality had been covered. It was with some annoyance - mostly directed at former chief executive Peter Kenyon - Ferguson learned Ronaldinho had in fact signed for Barcelona.

It took the former world footballer of the year just three minutes to remind Ferguson what he missed, after Beckham had done what everyone knows he can, produce an excellent set piece delivery.

Patrice Evra's acrobatic attempt to clear that one set Ronaldinho up, although Edwin van der Sar had the shot covered before it deflected off Michael Carrick and ended up in the opposite corner.

Milan dominated proceedings in the first period, their passing causing United to twist and turn.

Ronaldinho, Luca Antonini and Klaas Jan Huntelaar twice came agonisingly close to finding Van der Sar's net again. If any had passed the Dutch goalkeeper, Ferguson could not have complained.

As it was, apart from Beckham, the only other United 'Class of 92' graduate on the pitch was about to make a decisive contribution. Scholes has peppered the intervening years with a number of howitzers, goals that will be admired decades from now.

This was not among them. Swinging at Darren Fletcher's low cross from the by-line, Scholes missed the ball completely with his right foot, the ball striking him half way up the shin of his standing left. What could only be described as a freakish deflection not only took it the six yards to Dida's goal, but right in the bottom corner, giving the Brazilian no chance of keeping it out.

Milan's response was admirable, given what a shattering blow that away goal was, Andrea Pirlo forcing a one-handed save out of Van der Sar with a 30-yard free-kick, before the 39-year-old Dutchman required every inch of his massive frame to flick a goalbound Ronaldinho effort round the post.

Yet in that one stroke of good fortune for Scholes, it seemed the destiny of the tie had been shaped and a minute after what turned out to be an inspired substitution, Rooney break his European duck.

Antonio Valencia, who had just replaced Nani, was the provider, sending over a cross from the right that allowed Rooney to steer a header back over Dida into the opposite corner.

Now the age in Milan's legs began to tell, and when Darren Fletcher chipped another cross into the box, Rooney stole between defenders to head home once more.

It seemed victory and progress was assured, so Ferguson will be livid at the Seedorf effort five minutes from time that ensured an uncomfortable ending and gives Milan a flicker of hope for the return in three weeks' time, when Michael Carrick will be unavailable following his dismissal deep into stoppage time.