Football: United hit five of the best

Manchester United 5 Brondby 0
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The Independent Online
MANCHESTER UNITED devoured their favourite Danish patsies for the third time in four months last night as they added a five-goal performance to the 6-0 and 6-2 defeats they had already inflicted upon Brondby.

The scale of the victory underlined United's good form but the other result in Champions' League Group D, a 2-1 win for Bayern Munich in Barcelona, was more significant. If United win at home to Bayern on 9 December, they will top the group regardless of other results. If they win in Barcelona on 25 November, they will only need a draw against Bayern. "It gives us two bites at it," said a delighted Alex Ferguson, the United manager, but he added cautiously: "If Bayern beat us here we could still go out."

This match was over within 15 minutes with United 3-0 up and even Phil Neville, who had never previously scored at Old Trafford, getting in on the act. The other goals came from David Beckham, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and Paul Scholes.

"The first-half performance was one of the best I've seen at United," Ferguson said. "The speed of the passing was superb, as was the imagination of the play. Some of the goals were stunning."

Ebbe Skovdahl, the coach of Brondby, said: "They have a team which is several levels above us. I hope they win the competition."

There is a long way to go before then, not least the need to maintain form through the spring and beyond, but United are already benefiting from Ferguson's summer strengthening. Both Yorke and Jesper Blomqvist were hugely influential and Giggs, who destroyed Brondby in Copenhagen, was not missed at all.

At times the main obstacle to scoring was the sheer number of United players clogging up the Brondby penalty area and, long before the end of the first half, the main interest was whether United could avoid injuries and cautions. The latter was successfully accomplished but Phil Neville limped off early with a thigh strain. Blomqvist and Cole were substituted but were uninjured.

Brondby's problems began when Kenneth Rasmussen fouled Cole 30 yards out and wide on the left. There seemed little danger but Beckham stepped up and whipped a low free-kick inside Emeka Andersen's near post. Though Kim Daugaard briefly caused Peter Schmeichel concern with some trickery in the box, he only won a corner and the siege was quickly renewed.

Cole almost scored after Per Nielsen had headed Roy Keane's cross against his own post, but Yorke inadvertently blocked his follow-up. No matter, a few minutes later came a goal Ferguson described as "brilliant". Blomqvist ran at the defence before playing an angled ball in to Cole. With Yorke behind him he skipped over it and ran into the box, where he met Yorke's perfect pass and scored with a delicate chip.

United were on fire and, a minute later, Cole was the middle man in a one-two which ended with Phil Neville shooting gleefully in. A brief hiatus followed, during which Andersen denied Cole's header.

Then, after 27 minutes, Blomqvist broke from his own penalty area, gliding past a number of yellow-and-blue shirts before picking out Beckham on the right. His cross was met by Yorke, whose header squirmed under the keeper.

Brondby continued to attack and Schmeichel had to save well from Ebbe Sand. The fifth did not come until the hour but it was worth the wait. Scholes collected the ball in midfield and went through a series of challenges before scoring from a tight angle.

United's European record, set with a 10-0 win over Anderlecht at, of all places, Maine Road in 1956, was never in danger but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Jordi Cruyff, Beckham and Yorke could all have scored a sixth. However, Brondby could easily have had a couple as United relaxed.

One disappointing aspect was the home support. Though turning out in their customary masses, most watched in near-silence with only the usual dedicated band in K block providing vocal opposition to the small but impressive away support. It was a different matter on the pitch, and this result will be heard as far away as Catalonia and Bavaria.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; P Neville (Brown, 31), G Neville, Stam, Irwin; Beckham, Keane, Scholes, Blomqvist (Cruyff, h-t); Yorke, Cole (Solskjaer, 53). Substitutes not used: Van der Gouw (gk), Butt, Johnsen, Curtis.

Brondby (4-4-2): Andersen; Colding, Rasmussen, Nielsen, Skarbalius; Daugaard, Ravn, J Jensen, Bagger (Thygesen, 67); Bjur (Krogh, 72), Sand (Hansen, 74). Substitutes not used: Drejs (gk), Bjerregaard, Vragel, M Jensen.

Referee: M Lubos (Slovakia).

Photograph, page 28