Date:Wednesday April 11 2007
Manchester United were on another planet yesterday and I'm at a loss to explain how it happened.
I was strangely confident ahead of the second leg. I felt our away goal had put us in a very comfortable position and we'll need only a quick goal.
When that arrived, I was rejoicing but I had no idea what is still in store. United proved several times this season that when it comes to flair, verve and attacking football they are the best right now. But the thrashings of Fulham, Bolton (twice) or Blackburn are simply not comparable to yesterday's win. These sides are limited ones for whom a game against us is only one of the lot. For Roma, a quality side, it was one of the most important games of their history.
And they started in a confident manner, passing the ball around and shooting from all dircetions. But Carrick's magnificent goal destroyed them. It wasn't obvious in that moment but they had no answer to our passing, movement, pace, incisiveness. When Smith and Rooney struck you had to feel it would be something special this night.
Everything clicked, we did what we wanted to. Roma had run out of ideas as they tried to apply some pressure but their long-range shots did not cause much unrest whereas they were repeatedly overrun whenever we got the ball. Quite simply, everyone played brilliantly. Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick gave their finest display in a United shirt, Giggs was irresistible, all of Ronaldo's tricks worked, Rooney and Smith were predators, chasing every ball and passing it on cleverly when that was required.
By the way, Smith. I was glad to see him in the starting eleven as I believed he could offer us more between strong Italian defenders than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who, even at the peak of his career, was always the deadliest when coming on as a substitute. Smudger's goal... that was unbelievable. It was important but the relief and unreserved joy on his face was clear to see. For the first time in months, I'm starting to hope Smith might stay at us.
What more could I write? Give credit where it's due: Daniele De Rossi's goal was wonderful and it was appropriate that it was applauded like Ronaldo's hat-trick in 2003. The guy's face, however, was there to see: I never saw anyone scoring such a wonderful goal and being so sad after that. But the last word was ours and when Evra hit the back of the net I was sure it's a kind of record. It is, for since the greatest club competition is called the Champions League, no other side have won by six goals at the knock-out stages.
Respect to Roma though. They managed to keep their dignity in the face of defeat and did not spend 70 minutes exacting revenge on us. They were quite fair though that's something I would never have expected from Italians.
There's something else, too. We missed no less than four first team regulars: Paul Scholes, Nemanja Vidic, Louis Saha and captain Gary Neville. Ji-sung Park was also out so our victory seems even greater in the wake of all the problems we face and after two consecutive defeats. It was really a seven-star performance.
Date:Wednesday April 11 2007
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