Beckham seals United's stroll into quarter-finals

Boavista 0 Manchester United 3
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The Independent Online

A Manchester United side missing several key players swept to a comfortable victory in Oporto to emerge as group winners after rivals Bayern Munich could only manage a 2-1 win over Nantes.

This impressive victory means United will avoid the favourites Real Madrid in Friday's quarter-final draw in Nyon. Sir Alex Ferguson was anxious to avoid the eight-times European Cup winners, but he might not be so enthralled by the thought that he has a one in three chance of meeting Liverpool, who have won their last five matches against United. The Scot expressed his delight at qualifying for the last eight, and was happy that his side will, for now, avoid the Spanish champions.

"We're in the quarter-finals and we're happy to be there," he said. "I just wanted to avoid Real Madrid at this moment in time. I think it would be great for England if they could get three teams in the quarter-finals, but I wouldn't say that was the reason why we are in European football. You can't pick your opponents though and if we get Liverpool or Arsenal then fine."

What was only United's third away win in 15 Champions' League games had not been in doubt from as early as the 14th minute when Laurent Blanc gave them the lead.

United smoothly moved up through the gears and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made it 2-0 with a real poacher's effort before a David Beckham penalty secured United's biggest European away win since their 3-0 win over Sturm Graz in September 1999.

Even without the injured Roy Keane, Juan Sebastian Veron and Ruud van Nistelrooy, United were far too quick and slick for Boavista. And this was against a Boavista side who had been unbeaten in their previous seven Champions' League home games and had conceded just three goals in the last five of those.

That defensive reliability deserted them for United's first goal, however. Beckham sent over a corner from the right and Blanc capitalised on some awful Boavista marking to side-foot home unchallenged from around eight yards out. It was the Frenchman's third goal for United and his first since he netted in the 3-0 win over Boavista at Old Trafford back in December.

Diego Forlan, making his first Champions' League start, thought he had finally opened his United account midway through the half when he met the cross of stand-in captain Ryan Giggs with a diving header only for the home goalkeeper, Ricardo, to block his effort.

Solskjaer was disappointed to head over when he should at least have hit the target, but he need not have worried as in the 29th minute he scored his 19th goal of the season to equal his best-ever haul for United. Giggs was the instigator and he pierced the Boavista defence to play a one-two with Beckham, and when Ricardo failed to hold his shot, Solskjaer reacted first to knock the rebound into the net.

United were now almost scoring at will and on 51 minutes they made it 3-0 from the penalty spot. Solskjaer found Nicky Butt on the left and he laid the ball inside to send Scholes bursting into the box only to be caught by Martelinho.

In the absence of van Nistelrooy, Beckham rifled home his second penalty in successive games for his 15th goal of a most prolific season.

With victory assured United made three changes, including Michael Stewart who came on to make his Champions' League debut. However, they were reduced to 10 men 15 minutes from time when Solskjaer hobbled off injured. Even with 10 men, United were still the better side.

Boavista: Ricardo; Frechaut, Paulo Turra, Pedro Emanuel, Jorge Silva (Martelinho, 34), Mario Loja, Petit, Silva (Goulart, 21; Mario Santos, 59) Sanchez, Duda, Serginho. Substitutes not used: Khadim, Avalos, Pedro Santos, Jorge Couto.

Manchester United: Barthez; G Neville, Blanc (O'Shea, 73), Johnsen (P Neville, 73), Silvestre, Beckham, Butt, Scholes (Stewart, 59), Giggs, Solskjaer, Forlan. Substitutes not used: Carroll, Irwin, Fortune, Djordjic.

Referee: K Plautz (Austria).

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