Football: Ferguson's swashbuckling United come of age in Europe

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The Independent Online
Manchester United 3

Juventus 2

What style, what passion, what a wonderful performance. There is still a long, long way to go but Manchester United last night earned the right to dream of the European glory they crave.

In front of a rapturous Old Trafford they gained a victory to cherish, one forged out of adversity and steeped in character.

Having gone into the game without the inspirational Roy Keane, United allowed Juventus to score within 24 seconds. No sooner had they recovered their poise than Nicky Butt, Keane's natural replacement, had to go off with double vision. A third defeat to Juventus in barely a year loomed.

Yet, even as Butt was being treated - and United were temporarily down to 10 men - the tide turned as Teddy Sheringham equalised. Juventus resorted to rough tactics and, after having Didier Deschamps dismissed, conceded a further goals to Paul Scholes after 65 minutes and Ryan Giggs in the final minute. Even a late consolation by Zinedine Zidane could not take the edge off United's joy.

"I am delighted at the result and the performance," said the United manager, Alex Ferguson. "We played some excellent football and deserved our victory. My players were ready for this, it was a challenge for them. This showed their capability. It was a measure of how far we've come."

In the absence of Roy Keane - the seriousness of whose knee injury will be assessed in a fortnight after an operation on Monday - United played Ronny Johnsen. He had only had 34 minutes action since returning from a thigh injury and being deputed to mark Zidane was a tall order. "He did very well after the first 10 minutes," Ferguson said.

He did, but his lack of match sharpness was exposed early on as United, having kicked off, found themselves instantly behind. Johnsen was dispossessed around the centre circle and the ball was quickly played from Didier Deschamps to Manuel Dimas on the left. His pass found Alessandro Del Piero's perfectly timed run behind Henning Berg. A neat drag-back dummied Peter Schmeichel and Berg before Del Piero coolly rolled the ball in.

Old Trafford, and its heroes, were stunned. They ought not have been. Del Piero, who scored in Juventus' 1-0 win here last year, has a special affinity for the Champions' League, and this was his 11th goal in the competition.

United, roared on by their supporters, gradually recovered from that shock and soon began to threaten the Italian defence. Berg headed over and Johnsen brought a reaction save from Angelo Peruzzi while Deschamps and Pecchia were booked for crude fouls - and Paolo Montero should have been. "I don't know how he stayed on," Ferguson said.

Juventus looked especially vulnerable in the air, only a linesman's flag, against Solskjaer, denying Sheringham a 16th-minute goal following Denis Irwin's long throw. With Johnsen settling, and Giggs and David Beckham beginning to control midfield, United rolled forward. Peruzzi denied Solskjaer after 28 minutes following a Beckham cross then Sheringham, having started the move, rose high at the far post to head in Giggs's deep cross.

The goal raised the temperature and Giggs was booked for heading the ball out of Peruzzi's hands to "score" while Ferrara - for halting a mazy Giggs run - and Del Piero were also cautioned for fouls. Montero also had a set-to with Johnsen and Ferrara with Sheringham which seemed to end with the Italian saying something along the lines of "see you in Rome".

Then Deschamps pulled one shirt to many. That it belonged to Johnsen was irrelevant, but his second yellow card was not. Three minutes after his departure Scholes put United ahead. Sheringham was yards offside as Pallister played a ball through after Berg had won a header, but Scholes was not. As the Italians stopped, he dribbled past them, Sheringham and Peruzzi to score.

A magical night for the United fans was capped in the last minute when Giggs, taking a pass from Sheringham, crowned an outstanding performance with a brilliantly taken goal. It looked like the icing on the cake but it turned out to be more important as, in injury time, Zidane curled a free-kick past Schmeichel.

Manchester United (4-3-1-2): Schmeichel; G Neville, Berg, Pallister, Irwin; Beckham, Johnsen, Butt (Scholes, 38); Giggs; Sheringham, Solskjaer (P Neville, 48). Substitutes (not used): Van der Gouw (gk), May, McClair, Clegg, Curtis.

Juventus (4-3-1-2): Peruzzi; Birindelli, Ferrara, Montero, Dimas; Pecchia (Juliano, 68), Deschamps, Tacchinardi (Pessotto, 19); Zidane; Inzaghi, Del Piero (Amoruso, 78). Substitutes (not used): Rampulla (gk), Padovano, Fonseca, Zamboni.

Referee: A Lopez Nieto (Sp).