It was the win in San Siro which Manchester United had been striving for since 1958 but there was so nearly a sense of deja vu about the club's fifth meeting with Milan in the stadium.
In the May 2007 semi-final defeat which prompted such soul-searching around United, Milan led early – on 11 minutes – and had wrapped up the night with a second on the half hour. On Tuesday, Milan led on three minutes and, given United's crippling defensive fragility, might have had four goals in a little more than half an hour.
There were some extenuating circumstances. Rio Ferdinand was confronted with the exhilarating combination of Ronaldinho and Alexandre Pato having played just two competitive matches in four months and Nemanja Vidic was missing. But Luca Antonini is a defender and the way he sold Ferdinand a dummy to shoot past the post was as worrying for those who long to see Ferdinand restored to his best as was the way that Klaas-Jan Huntelaar accelerated ahead of Ferdinand to take a ball from Massimo Ambrosini, only to strike his shot narrowly wide of Edwin van der Sar's right post. Little wonder Ferdinand marched quickly out of the stadium without stopping to talk. Rafael's torrid night, being beaten inside and out by Ronaldino, compounds the feeling that it is indulgence for Ferguson to suggest that the 19-year-old Brazilian is a short footballing education away from greatness. He struggled technically and temperamentally in both Carling Cup semi-final matches against Manchester City, too. Some of Ferguson's wrath – the visible bit at least – was reserved for Jonny Evans, who was told to "wake up". Evans's night was more mixed but he did make a fine 29th-minute tackle on Ronaldinho. Amid Rooney's heroics, Van der Sar's contribution was perhaps overlooked but from the low sharp shot gathered from Ronaldinho with the game seven minutes old to another clawed away right-handed on 41 minutes and the Andrea Pirlo free-kick touched over soon after the interval, this was a mighty night's goalkeeping. Van der Sar was United's man of the match.
In the sober light of day, this did not look like the defence of prospective European champions. As Michael Carrick put it later: "All in all, the way we started and given the kind of chances they had, we can't too get carried away."