Manchester United are one step closer to qualifying for yet another Champions League final after a convincing 2-0 win over FC Schalke 04 tonight. United were dominant for much of the 90 minutes of the semi-final first leg at the Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen but it did take them 67 minutes to break down the Schalke defence, in particular goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who was a tower of strength at the back for the home side.
The German international made save after save to keep his side alive before United's Ryan Giggs finally got the better of him in the 67th minute with a neat finish after being played through by a clever Wayne Rooney ball. That goal sparked the visitors to quickly score a second through Rooney to put one foot in the May 28 decider to be played at London's Wembley Stadium.
Schalke will really need to turn the tables when they travel to Old Trafford for Wednesday's second leg as tonight's showing was unlike the performances which got them through to the semi-finals in the first place whilst Sir Alex Ferguson will be delighted with his charges who produced a commanding routine away from home.
Venue: Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen - Germany Crowd: 54,000 Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (ESP) Yellow cards:SCH - Chistoph Metzelder 34', Hans Sarpei 71' MANU - Fabio 58'
Things started in an attacking manner with both teams enjoying bright moments in the early stages, particularly when Schalke's Alexander Baumjohann tested Edwin van der Sar with a first minute shot before Wayne Rooney came close for United less than two minutes later, forcing Manuel Neuer into a diving left-handed save with a curling shot from the left side of the box.
Neuer came up with another good save right on the five-minute mark from a Park Ji-Sung shot from outside the area as United made their intentions clear with a high-tempo beginning.
The14th minute saw Neuer again come to the rescue when Javier Hernandez was played on-side but the German made himself big and kept Chicharito out when the Mexican really should have done better.
Hernandez was causing plenty of problems for the Schalke defence and again came close with an angled attempt in the 26th minute just prior to another fine Neuer save, this time from a Ryan Giggs header after the Welshman was found by a deft Nemanja Vidic cross to top of the six-yard box.
The visitors were coming hard at the Germans and had a few more opportunities around the 35-minute mark when Neuer again saved from Hernandez before Park had a shot blocked and Giggs tried his luck from the rebound. It seemed as it would simply be a matter of time until United would score.
On the stroke of half-time, Neuer was again the man, saving Giggs' right-footed shot from inside the box to cap a tremendous individual first half performance which kept his side in the contest.
The German gloveman picked up where he left off early in the second half, tipping a Michael Carrick header over the bar from a Giggs free-kick moments before the veteran Welshman spurned a great chance when he turned onto his right and missed the target.
Finally the ball was in the back of the net for United when Hernandez hammered home in the 50th minute but he had been adjudged off-side so the score remained at 0-0, much to the delight of the home crowd who were beginning to get anxious as the game wore on.
Schalke really needed to start creating solid chances like Edu did when he hit a swerving shot goalward in the 65th minute but van der Sar was equal to the task before United whisked it down the other end and got the goal they thoroughly deserved. GOAL Rooney was the architect with a cheeky fake outside the area before playing a perfect through ball for Giggs who needed just one touch to slide it home past Neuer in the 67th minute to give the visitors the ascendency.
GOAL And all of a sudden it was 2-0 when the Schalke defenders got tangled up allowing Hernandez to slip a nice pass through to Rooney who needed no invitation to whip it past Neuer, essentially wrapping up proceedings with just over 20 minutes remaining against a team devoid of any creativity in their own forward third.
The sting went right out of the match as the minutes ticked over until Schalke sub Sergio Escudero tried his luck with a long range attempt in the 82nd minute but it was not quite good enough to beat a diving van der Sar.
Five minutes later, Patrice Evra got a rare chance to score but he trickled his shot from the left side of the penalty area inches wide of the far upright in what was the final play of any real consequence of the match.
Schalke Manuel Neuer (gk) - Atsuto Uchida, Joel Matip, Chistoph Metzelder, Hans Sarpei (Escudero 73') - Jefferson Farfan, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Jose Manuel Jurado (Draxler 83'), Alexander Baumjohann (Kluge 53') - Edu, Raul Gonzalez
Man Utd Edwin van der Sar (gk) - Fabio, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra - Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs, Park Ji-Sung (Scholes 73') - Javier Hernandez (Anderson 73'), Wayne Rooney (Nani 83')