Football: European Cup quarter-final - Wide men expose Inter's glass jaw

Beckham and Giggs find space on the flanks as Ferguson's tactics prove decisive
Click to follow
The Independent Online
"TEN LIONS and one boy" sneered one headline after David Beckham reputedly cost England their chance of winning the World Cup last summer. In his first reunion with Diego Simeone, his nemesis on that balmy, barmy evening in St Etienne, Beckham finished the match being loudly lionised for his outstanding contribution to one of Manchester United's greatest European nights.

They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. Well, it was cold and wet, as befits a March evening in Manchester, and Beckham certainly exacted retribution.

Both Dwight Yorke's goals stemmed from his precision from the right flank, enabling the Tobagan striker to expose Internazionale's glass jaw. Beckham and Simeone swapped shirts at the end, the only thing the latter took from a game in which he had a "goal" disallowed.

Simeone had been widely quoted - misquoted according to Italian sources - as admitting that he had been putting on the agony when he fell as if struck by a flying mallet following Beckham's petulant kick in France. "I might get whistled," he reportedly speculated before leaving Milan, and a heaving, seething Old Trafford did not disappoint him.

For United fans, who have spent all season chanting "Argentina" in response to the booing of Beckham by opposing supporters who believe he let England down, the presence of this panto villain from the Pampas forced an about- turn. Suddenly, Simeone's countrymen were "cheats", just as they had been when another "dirty Diego" manhandled England out of the 1986 World Cup, and righteous wrath poured down from the stands.

The pre-match hype might have led people to suppose that Beckham and Simeone were about to spend the evening in the kind of close proximity the United player normally reserves for Posh Spice.

In the event, the tactical shake-down pitted Simeone directly against Roy Keane. All over the pitch, indeed, the combatants lined up in a series of head-to-head duels as if on a giant, muddy chessboard.

United's front two, Yorke and Andy Cole, for instance, were picked up immediately by Fabio Galante and Francesco Colonnese. Behind them, that gnarled old veteran of the Azzurri's global triumph in 1982, Giuseppe Bergomi, enjoyed the freedom and responsibility that comes with the role of libero. However "enjoyed" was perhaps not the apposite word, given how little time it took for Inter's supposedly watertight defence to be holed.

Despite Alex Ferguson's preference for the ball-playing Paul Scholes over the ball-winning Nicky Butt, United's central midfield was not the hive of creativity it was when Eric Cantona was in his pomp. As a result, Ferguson was looking more towards wide players, Beckham and Ryan Giggs to produce the magic to unlock Inter.

That it was Beckham who obliged with the measured cross that Yorke glanced past Gianluca Pagliuca meant that it was a moment for catharsis as well as cacophony.

The emphasis that United placed on working the ball to the flanks indicated that Ferguson had detected a weakness in the way Inter defended high balls into their area. There was no tall target man to aim for, of course, although equally the Italians had no serious aerial presence at the back either.

Simeone had allegedly boasted that he performed better when being jeered, yet the frequency with which he passed to the red shirts of United suggested a subconscious desire to atone for the sins of St Etienne. He did produce Inter's most threatening effort of the first half - a bludgeoned drive from 25 yards which passed just wide, but he was again a spectator as Beckham heaped irony upon irony by delivering the centre from which Yorke emerged from the pack to head United's second goal.

It is one of the British game's enduring cliches that foreign goalkeepers "do not like it up 'em". United's persistence with the ploy of testing Pagliuca was a sure sign that Ferguson believed it to be true of Inter's custodian. Giggs had a free header early in the second half from yet another hanging cross, supplied by Yorke in a role reversal which emphasised the home side's flexibility, only for the Welshman to direct the ball wide.

Inter were disappointing - if not to United's followers - and it was plain from the punchless way in which they sought to sneak a potentially precious away goal why they had not scored from open play on their travels this year.

Simeone was convinced he had broken their duck by heading in from a corner midway through the second half. For United, who had left him unmarked, it was the sort of lapse in concentration which has cost them dearly in the later stages of this competition. Herr Krug had spotted an infringement, and it merely heightened United's satisfaction to see Simeone leading the protests.

Comments